Kites are essentially a European bird, although because of persecution
its range is much reduced. There have been reintroductions of Red Kites
into England and Scotland with birds from Spain and Sweden respectively,
but the Welsh Kites represent the remnants of the native British
When travelling through Mid Wales, from a distance, many people at first
mistake the high circling dot of a buzzard for a kite. Both birds do
circle on the look out for prey, and can sometimes be seen together,
using the same thermals, but after clearly seeing a kite it cannot be
confused with the buzzard.
Red kites are a chestnut red with striking white patches under the wings
and a whitish head. Viewed from above, a broad white crescent curves
across the inner part of the wings, but it is the underside that
produces the most startling image.
The long fingered primary feathers are white with black tips and being
bordered by chestnut coverts and dark grey secondaries give the dazzling
patches of contrast seen in every kite. The legs and feet are bright
yellow and can often be seen when the bird is in flight.
Unlike the buzzard, it is usually silent while hunting, but it can be
noisy when fighting for scraps of food with carrion crows and other
kites, Its voice is an insistent, thin piping raised in complaint.
Again, the call is quite distinctive once recognised.
In days gone by Red Kites would frequently be seen around abattoirs and
rubbish tips but with new regulations and EEC directives, butcher's
waste now has to be contained and tips are covered each day. Officially
sheep carcasses are supposed to be buried but, luckily for the kite,
this is often neither possible nor practical for the farmer due to the
often remote location.
The Red Kite is primarily a scavenger and opportunist; it profits from
sheep carrion. The red kite, being relatively weak for a bird of its
size, is not capable of opening up sheep or lamb carcasses by itself and
has to wait until more powerful birds such as ravens or buzzards have
made the first inroads before it will attempt to feed. It is however a
predator in that it takes a wide variety of live prey, ranging from
earthworms to small mammals, amphibians and birds prefer a patchwork of
woodland and open countryside.
When hunting live prey, a low gliding flight is employed so that the
kite can search for small movements on the ground and then it quickly
dives and grasps the creature in its talons. It needs farmland, moorland
and the high hilltops for a hunting ground but prefers to rest and roost
within the trees. Red Kites are best seen in the winter when they make
the most of the short days. This time of year offers no disturbance to
breeding birds - Kites are notoriously easy to disturb at the nest and
even a person walking unwittingly underneath the nest tree can cause it
Its closest relative is the Black Kite (Milvus Migrans) which although
similar to the Red Kite in appearance lacks its beautiful chestnut
colouring. Red Kites and Black Kites do live together in places like
Spain and can even breed together.
The red kite, despite being a large bird (Wales' largest breeding
raptor) is neither particularly strong nor aggressive. It has a wingspan
of nearly two metres (about five-and-a-half-feet), but a relatively
small body weight of 2 - 3 Ibs. This means the bird is incredibly agile,
and can stay in the air for many hours with hardly a beat of its wings.
The head is pale grey with the hooded amber eyes ringed with lemon
yellow. The beak, wickedly hooked and very sharp, is designed for
tearing meat and killing small prey animals.
The Red Kite has excellent eye sight and uses this when over flying the
countryside in search of food.