Bird of the Week: Red Kite

The red kite has a very distinctive silhouette, was once protected in medieval times and is coming back from near extinction.

Published 13 Feb 2018, 14:12 GMT

With reddish-brown body, deeply forked tail and flashes of white on the undercarriage, there is no mistaking the graceful silhouette of the red kite. Males and females look similar although the males are slightly smaller. They feed mostly on carcasses of dead animals and were often seen scavenging in towns and cities. They were protected during medieval times as they kept the streets clean.

Later Victorian gamekeepers and farmers thought red kite were killing gamebirds and livestock. Although this was untrue, they were persecuted to extinction in Scotland and England by the end of the 19th century. Only a handful remained in Wales.

Conservation project

The red kite was protected during medieval times as they are scavengers and kept the streets clean.
Photograph by RSPB

Fortunately, in one the longest continuous conservation projects, the red kite has now been successfully re-introduced to a few counties in England and Scotland. There are now thought to be around 1,800 breeding pairs in Britain, half of which are in Wales.

These majestic birds are not out of trouble yet. They are still threatened from illegal poisoning by bait left out for foxes and crows as well as secondary poisoning by rodenticides. All birds of prey are protected but, despite this, continue to fall foul of illegal activity. 

Sadly legal protection has failed to safeguard raptors and this is partly down to the difficulty in detecting incidents and getting evidence for prosecutions. The aim is to one day see these splendid birds back where they belong across the whole of the UK.

During Victorian times the bird was nearly hunted to extinction but a successful re-introduction programme has helped increase numbers. However, the red kite still faces threats from illegal poisoning and as well as death from eating rodents killed with poison.
Photograph by RSPB
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