Country File - The Red kite

Susan Catford

Having seen Red Kites in other parts of the country, it is only recently that I have spotted them locally. It is usual to see Buzzards and Sparrow Hawks but a treat to see this beautiful, graceful bird.

The Kite is larger than the Buzzard and has a very distinctive forked tail. Its plumage is variegated with a tail that is rusty on the upperside and lighter beneath. It has long wings with a contrasting white bar on the upperwing. In flight it is very acrobatic and glides with its elegant extended wings. The Kite became nearly extinct in the nineteenth century but, with a careful conservation programme over a hundred years, its population has grown hugely. Descended from one female, there were 77 pairs by 1991 and now estimated to be more than 2000 pairs in the UK. Kites nest high in the trees, constructing their nest with a mixture of dead twigs, grass and sheep’s wool. Before breeding, they may add other materials including rubbish such as paper bags etc!

Nests can grow to a considerable size. Eggs are laid in clutches of 1-3 eggs and are incubated for approximately a month. During the first two weeks the female cares for the young while the male provides the food. After this time they share the foraging. Fledgling does not occur until 48-50 days but the young remain near to the nest for another two weeks. The young then leave the area and are entirely independent until they return to breed two years later.

Kites live on average for ten years but the oldest known wild Kite was 26 years old. It is good that these beautiful birds have survived and are a stunning sight for us to see.