Red Kites The Most Majestic And Beautiful Birds Of Prey
Every morning I open my balcony door and step outside to the most beautiful sound of bird calls. Looking up, I see chestnut red and white, soaring high above the ground. The call is an ancient sound, long and musical. I look across at the tree approximately 30ft away, and my eyes travel to the peak. There in all its full glory is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. The Red Kite. To me, this is one of the most spectacular sights anyone could ask for. Right on my doorstep.
There are at least four birds living in the tree, with another ten flying around and roosting within a quarter of a mile. When the babies are born, the sound gets louder and continues all day, with the chicks constantly calling the parents for food. Its just like any nursery, only these babies are going to grow to a huge size.
With an adult wingspan of nearly six feet across, and a body weight of only 2 to 3 pounds, the Red Kite can stay on the wing for hour upon hour, and hardly needs to put any energy into flying. In fact most of the time they are soaring round and round, calling and playing over the fields nearby.
Did You Know?
One of the most amazing facts about Red Kites is that they had virtually disappeared from England, Scotland, And most of Wales, by the end of the 18th Century, and have only been reintroduced again recently.
Back in the 16th Century a law was enforced that went by the name, Vermin Acts. This was believed to have been founded as a last attempt to stop birds from causing agricultural disaster. The Red Kites were the first to go. This law continued throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, and got worse by the employment of gamekeepers, especially employed to kill off all of these wonderful birds.
Luckily for us, Red Kites managed to survive in Wales, even though there were only a few pairs left.
Soon after, seeing the decline of such a wonderful bird, the local landowners in mid Wales decided to set up a protection program for the Kites. Along with the help of local communities and individuals. Over the next Century Red Kites continued to breed.
The majority of Red Kites live only in Europe, but a few pairs are known to have reached North West Africa. In Wales alone, there are over 600 pairs.
Red Kite Feeding Station & Rehabilitation Centre - Gigrin Farm. Mid Wales.
Fascinating Red Kite Facts
The Red Kite is known as Milvus milvus and belongs to the family called Accipitridae.
There is a Black Kite that is known as Milvus migrans which is more common to Continental Europe, and is very rarely seen in Britain.
The Red Kite has a distinct forked tail, that acts like a rudder to help it twist and turn as it flies. Some believe that is why its called a kite, in reference to the fact it looks and acts like a childs toy kite. This is probably a modern idea, but has no basis in fact.
The Red Kite has bright yellow legs!
Whilst the young have grey eyes, the adults have bright yellow or gold eyes.
Diet And Breeding Patterns
Red Kites are fairly gentle birds considering that they are birds of prey. Recently shown on TV, I was fascinated to see that instead of being aggressive when held, they in fact hold their head down and keep completely still until allowed to fly. They tend to be scavengers, waiting for other birds such as buzzards and falcons to make the kill even though they are much larger in size. Their food consists of left over sheep carcases, small mammals, other birds and amphibians.
Red Kites will start to breed at two to three years old. Its said that they pair for life mainly because of their attachment to territory or nests. But I feel there is more to it than that. I have watched them soar and swoop, playfully nipping at each other as they swirl and dance in the sky, and it seems to me that they do sometimes have what I call ‘play time‘. The young Kites watch and learn, and sometimes join in.
Nests are always built in trees, usually oak or other hardwoods, and usually high up, 20ft and above. The Kites in the tree near me, are approx 35ft high. The nests are made up of sticks and are flat and two feet thick. Courtship starts in March and the eggs are laid two to four weeks later. If the mating pair are breeding for the first time, this may be as late as April.
Eggs are usually laid at three day intervals. And the female usually produces two, but has been know to lay four eggs. The female will stay on the nest, but the male will take over for short periods so that the female can hunt and feed.
The eggs will hatch after thirty one days, sometimes up to thirty five. Because they were laid three days apart, the chicks will be born with the same interval. This can sometimes cause sibling rivalry. The larger chicks will grab the food first, and if there is a shortage, they have been known to kill the smaller babies.
Red Kite Call
Attack And Defence
One of the most spectacular sights, is to see the Red Kites suddenly pull back their wings, tip upside down and, like a bullet, shoot down to grab their prey. Its an amazing sight. The sound of their cry echoes around the houses, and many a time I have seen smaller birds take to the air, squawking and frightened by the imposing sight of these huge birds reaching down and scooping up a rabbit or mouse.
The sound of the triumphant Kite, and the terrified black birds, makes such a cacophony of noise, that anybody walking underneath, automatically looks up and stops to watch the spectacle.
With Red Kites literally living on my doorstep, one of the most common sights is the aerial ‘War Games’ between the Kites and other smaller birds. it’s a sight to see. Mainly small blackbirds, and sometimes crows launch an aerial attack on the Kites.
Seeing the large birds circling around the small nests, the blackbirds take to the air, squawking and attacking the Kites. Most of the time it only takes a few seconds to warn the Kites to get away, and it’s a strange sight to see, a full grown six foot wingspan Kite being seen off by a tiny blackbird.
But sometimes it can turn nasty. The Red Kite starts to fly away from the small attacker, but after being nipped too many times in mid air, will suddenly turn on the blackbird. The Kite will try to grab the blackbird and a scuffle breaks out. Like any large bird of prey, the Kite will extend its claws and try to grab the smaller bird, then the ‘Twirl Dance’ will happen. This is when the Kite will swing the bird around and try to dash it to the floor. The message is, don’t mess with me. The Kite always wins.
I remember last year when this happened just as I was walking to the shop. Hearing a harsh screech, I looked up to see the action about 20 feet above me. Children just coming out of school, stopped in their tracks and started pointing at the sky. The fight must have gone on for ten minutes, and when it was finished, the children were so excited, they couldn't stop talking about it. Nature at its best.
Where To See Red Kites
I am so priveleged to live near such a wonderful bird. The Red Kites are part of my life, and I would miss them if they left.
If you would like to see Red Kites, and get a close up view, you can visit:
Red Kite Feeding Station & Rehabilitation Centre - Gigrin Farm. Mid Wales.
Where you can see them being fed every day at 3pm from March until October, and at 2pm from October until March.
You can also enjoy an Exhibition of Wildlife in your visit.
Or if you are visiting England, then just head on down to the Chilterns, which includes, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, and Hampshire. And see the Red Kites in their natural habitat.
Gigrin Farm Red Kite Centre, South Street, Rhayader, Powys, Wales UK
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