Red Kite

Milvus milvus

Last updated: May 28, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Werner Baumgarten/Shutterstock.com

This bird moves its tail to steer its body like a rudder on a boat.


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Red Kite Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Accipitriformes
Family
Accipitridae
Genus
Milvus
Scientific Name
Milvus milvus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red Kite Conservation Status

Red Kite Locations

Red Kite Locations

Red Kite Facts

Prey
Insects, small mammals, fish, carrion
Fun Fact
This bird moves its tail to steer its body like a rudder on a boat.
Estimated Population Size
60,000-70,000
Biggest Threat
Ingesting rodents that have been poisoned
Most Distinctive Feature
Forked tail
Wingspan
69 - 77 inches
Incubation Period
31-32 days

Red Kite Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
Up to 25 years
Weight
2 - 2.5 pounds
Length
24 - 26 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
Between 2 and 3 years old

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The red kite moves its forked tail to steer itself as it flies through the air.

The first thing you notice about a red kite in flight is its distinctive forked tail. It also makes a high-pitched call that sounds similar to whistling, “weooo, weooo.” The carnivorous diet of a red kite includes small mammals and insects, but it usually eats carrion left behind on the road. It lives in Europe, Asia, and a small part of northern Africa. The wingspan of this bird is 69 to 77 inches!

3 Red Kite Amazing Facts

  1. Eggs in a single clutch hatch one to two days apart
  2. Long ago, these birds were considered pests and (mistakenly) blamed for killing small farm animals
  3. The oldest red kite reached 28 years old
Pictorial summary of the Red Kite

Where to Find a Red Kite

Red kite flying in blue sky over Germany

Red kites have a wingspan of 69 to 77 inches.

©Werner Baumgarten/Shutterstock.com

Red kites are found in Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. They live in a temperate climate in a variety of habitats including grasslands, wetlands, forests, and shrublands.

The best time to see these birds soaring in the sky is in the spring specifically in the month of March. They are preparing their nests for the breeding season.



Some of the countries where it’s found:

  1. Austria
  2. France
  3. Germany
  4. Ukraine
  5. Greece
  6. Spain
  7. Iran
  8. Iraq
  9. Ireland
  10. Finland
  11. Egypt

Nests

Head shot of a red kite against a green background

Red kites generally place their nests in tree forks placed as high as 50 feet

©Gelpi/Shutterstock.com

Sometimes red kites use nests abandoned by buzzards and other types of birds. But, if they build one, both the male and female working together.

Its nest is usually found in a tree fork located around 40 to 50 feet up in a tree. Along with large sticks, a red kite’s nest is constructed with odds and ends. This can be anything from scraps of clothing to torn paper to pieces of wool. Anything to make their baby birds feel comfortable!

Scientific Name

Milvus milvus is the red kite’s scientific name. The Latin word milvus translates to bird. In Sweden, this bird is called Glada which is the Swedish word for kite.

It belongs to the Accipitridae family and the class Aves.

Red kites belong to the genus Milvus making them the closest relatives of the other two member species of the group: black kites found in Eurasia, Australia, and Oceania, and yellow-billed kites found in Africa.

As part of the Milvinae subfamily, they are related to members of seven other genera including Mississippi kites, snail kites, slender-billed kites, and square-billed kites.

These kites all belong to the Accipitridae making them the cousins of eagles, hawks, harriers, and vultures. Members of this family date back to 50 million years ago, during the Eocene. Robust fossil evidence exists dating from the late Eocene about 35 million years ago with fossils having been discovered in America, Australia, China, England, France, and Italy.

Size, Appearance, and Behavior

Red kite birds have reddish-brown feathers on their back and breast along with a grayish-white head. Looking up at a flying red kite bird, you’ll see a large section of white feathers on the undersides of its reddish-brown wings. The underside of its forked tail is also covered in white feathers. This bird has bright yellow legs along with a hooked beak of the same color.

The forked tail of the red kite bird is not only interesting but also serves a practical purpose. The bird uses it to turn easily and swiftly in the air. This bird can dive, circle, and soar with ease. The wings of a red kite bird are notable as well. Study them closely and you’ll see they are angled at the tips. In fact, the tips of their wings have been compared to human fingertips!

This bird is 24 to 26 inches long and weighs two to two and a half pounds. Its wingspan is 69 to 77 inches.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Not all red kite birds migrate. Red kites that live in northern regions migrate south to warmer weather for the winter. For instance, red kites that breed in Germany in the springtime migrate south to France or Spain for the winter.

Types

The red kite species contains two subspecies which include:

  • Milvus milvus milvus: This subspecies can be found in Africa (northwest), Europe, and the Middle East.
  • Milvus milvus fasciicauda: This subspecies can be found in West Africa, in the Cape Verde Islands.

Diet

Red kite sitting in the grass

Red kites are fond of eating carrion, fish, insects, and small mammals.

©Fercast/Shutterstock.com

The red kite is a carnivorous bird. But it doesn’t always hunt its prey.

What does a red kite eat?

The red kite has a diet that includes fish, small mammals, and insects. It also eats carrion it finds on the road. Red kites have superb eyesight and agility. Consequently, they can dive and scoop their prey off the ground fairly easily.

Predators and Threats

What eats a red kite?

the wedge tail eagle has spread its wings ready for flight

Red kits may be in danger from larger birds

©Susan Flashman/Shutterstock.com

Snakes, cats, and larger birds are predators of the red kite. However, these animals usually go after the eggs or the young of this bird.

Humans are also predators of these birds sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. For example, some farmers and others with large pieces of property, put out poison to kill mice and rats. A red kite that eats one of those dead rodents also dies from the poison.

Some people are still under the mistaken impression that red kite birds kill chickens, lambs, and other small farm animals. So, they put poison out to kill any red kites in the area. Fortunately, people are becoming more educated about this bird.

Red kites are killed when they fly into power lines, and some are hit and killed by cars when eating carrion in the road.

Despite all of these challenges, its population is increasing and is described as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

2 juvenile red kites sitting on the ground with a blurred field in the background

Red kite chicks leave the safety of the nest after about 3 months

©Albert Beukhof/Shutterstock.com

Spring is the breeding season of red kites. Female red kites lay one to four eggs in the middle part of April. This bird’s eggs are cream with spots of light brown. The incubation period of its eggs is 31 to 32 days. Keep in mind that the eggs hatch one or two days apart. So, one baby may be as many as two days older than another chick in the nest!

The chicks leave the nest at the age of 48 to 50 days old. But each baby usually stays around the nesting area for two or three more weeks. The parents of the chicks help to feed their young and continue to care for them during this time.

Young red kite birds are sexually mature at two to three years old. The total lifespan of this feathered creature is up to 25 years.

Population

This bird’s population of 60,000 to 70,000 is described as increasing. It’s of Least Concern.

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About the Author

I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

Red Kite FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does a red kite migrate?

Some red kites that breed in northern regions of Europe or Asia migrate south for the winter to enjoy areas with a warmer climate.

How many eggs does a red kite lay?

A female red kite lays one to four eggs.

How fast does a red kite fly?

It can fly as fast as 100mph.

What is a red kite’s wingspan?

Its wingspan is 69 to 77 inches.

When do red kites leave the nest?

Red kite chicks leave the nest at 48 to 50 days old. But they stay in the area another two or three weeks.

Is a red kite rare?

It’s not considered rare today. In fact, its population is growing.

What does it mean when you see a red kite?

There are lots of meanings connected to the red kite. But one common belief is it represents hope and good luck.

Are red kites and buzzards the same bird?

No. But, they do share some qualities such as a diet of carrion as well as live prey. Plus, they both have angled wings and a similar call.

One difference is a buzzard’s tailfeathers have a fan formation while a red kite’s tail is forked. A red kite also has a wider wingspan than a buzzard.

How do red kites help the environment?

Red kites help the environment by eating carrion. Also, they eat rodents and insects keeping the population of these pests under control. As you see, while they were once considered pests, red kites play an important part in maintaining a healthy environment.

Is a red kite a hawk?

No. However, they belong to the same family as hawks and are birds of prey.

Do red kites eat birds?

Sometimes. If a bird is dead on the road, a red kite may stop and eat some of it.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. IUCN Red List / Accessed May 25, 2022
  2. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds / Accessed May 25, 2022
  3. Wikipedia / Accessed May 25, 2022
  4. Wildlife Trusts / Accessed May 25, 2022
  5. Hawk and Owl Trust / Accessed May 25, 2022
  6. Discover Wildlife / Accessed May 25, 2022
  7. Bird Fact / Accessed May 25, 2022

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