especially good hunting ground for the red kite, and a host of other
predators, is the land between the cultivated valley bottom and lower
slopes and the open hill top. There is often bracken, gorse and heather
sheltering great numbers of rabbits, voles, moles and field-mice.
Red Kites reach sexual maturity between 2-4 years of age. They normally
pair for life and although in winter they may spend some time apart or
in communal roosts, by February (or January if the weather is good) they
will be found visiting the nesting area together. For established pairs,
courtship and nest-building usually start in earnest during March, about
2 - 4 weeks before the first egg is laid, but first-time breeders may
not start until April
The pair will fly together in high circling displays and these will
intensify through March.
Both birds assist in the building of the nest which is built of sticks
collected from the ground. Sometimes an old crows or buzzards nest will
be taken over and renovated but whether new or second hand in Wales the
nest lining will always be of sheep's wool. Welsh red kites nests are
built exclusively in trees - mostly in hardwoods, such as oaks. Nests
are usually built at a height of between 4 and 30 metres above the
ground, and are usually fairly flat, untidy structures of sticks 2 to 3
feet in width.
The eggs are normally laid in early April with 1-3 being the usual
range. They are produced at 3 day intervals ensuring that there will
always be a dominant chick who will be likely to outlive his siblings
and hopefully survive himself if food is scarce. Incubation takes 31-32
days with an extra 3 days per extra egg if more than one. Incubation of
the eggs takes 31-32 days with an extra 3 days per extra egg if more
The eggs of the Red Kite have been targeted by thieves - collectors will
risk very heavy fines (over £1,000) to obtain them. This selfish
activity is part of the reason why it took so long for the population to
re-establish itself and start expanding again in Wales.
female carries out the majority of the incubation with relief from the
male in the form of several 20 minute breaks during the day for feeding
and exercise. The parent birds must stay alert to protect the eggs from
potential nest robbers such as carrion crows and ravens.
It is at this time that the kite is most prone to desertion if disturbed
in any way.
When the chicks hatch the male bird brings food to the nest for the
female to tear into small scraps with which to feed them. An adult Red
Kite needs food equivalent to a small rabbit each day and a young
growing chick has the same requirement. Food shortage is the main reason
why so many chicks fail to fledge.
Fledging can take from 7 to 9 weeks depending on the food availability
but by about 6 weeks of age the chicks are seen to move away from the
nest to exercise their wings, building up their flight muscles in
preparation for the big day.