The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) is a medium-sized raptor (L 60 cm), bigger and paler than Black Kite (Milvus migrans) with deeply forked tail. The body, upper tail and wing coverts are rufous. The white primary flight feathers contrast with the black wing tips and dark secondaries. Apart from the weight difference, the sexes are similar, but juveniles have a buff breast and belly. Its call is a thin piping sound, similar to but less mewling than the common buzzard.
The species breeds in broadleaf woodlands and forests, mixed with farmland, pasture and heathland, to 2,500 m in Morocco (del Hoyo et al. 1994). In winter it also occupies wasteland, scrub and wetlands. Formerly an urban scavenger, it still visits the edges of towns and cities. It takes a wide range of food, but feeds mainly on carrion and small to medium-sized mammals and birds. Reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are less important prey.
Population and Distribution
The European (EU27) breeding population is estimated at 24,000-31,900 pairs with the strongholds of its population in Germany (12,000-18,000p), Spain (3,810-4,150p) and France (2,335-3,022p). The Red Kite has a winter population size of 38,100-42,200 individuals in the EU27.
The Red Kite is endemic to the western Palearctic, with the European population encompassing 95% of its global breeding range. Most birds in north-east Europe are migratory, wintering mainly in southern France and Iberia, but with some travelling as far as Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Migrants travel south from their breeding grounds between August and November, returning between February and April (Snow and Perrins 1998).
According to the Article 12 report (2008-2012) the EU population status of Milvus milvus was assessed as Near Threatened. In Europe the population size was recently estimated to be decreasing at a rate approaching 30% in 34.5 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).
The breeding population trend in the EU27 is Stable in the short term and Decreasing in the long term. The winter population trend in the EU27 is Decreasing in the short term and Decreasing in the long term. An EU species action plan for the Red Kite was published in 2009 (Knott et al. 2009). National species action plans are in place in Germany (Hesse), France, the Balearic Islands and Denmark, and a draft national action plan is in place in Portugal.
The most pertinent threat to this species is illegal direct poisoning to kill predators of livestock and game animals (targetting foxes, wolves, corvids etc.) and indirect poisoning from pesticides and secondary poisoning from consumption of poisoned rodents by rodenticides spread on farmland to control vole plagues, particularly in the wintering ranges in France and Spain, where it is driving rapid population declines (Aebischer in litt. 2009); there is a strong correlation between rapid declines and those populations that winter in Spain (Carter 2007). The Spanish government released more than 1,500 tons of rodenticide-treated baits over about 500,000 ha to fight against a common vole plague in agricultural lands between August 2007 and April 2008; records of Red Kites dying by secondary poisoning in treated areas resulted (Vinuela in litt. 2009). Illegal poisoning is also a serious threat to the species in north Scotland, with 40% of birds found dead between 1989 and 2006 having been killed by poisoning (Smart et al. 2010). In France populations disappeared at the same rate as conversion from grasslands to cereal crops (Tourret in litt. 2009). The decline of grazing livestock and farming intensification leading to chemical pollution, homogenization of landscapes and ecological impoverishment also threatens the species (Knott et al. 2009). Wind turbines are a potentially serious future threat (Duchamp 2003, Mammen et al. 2009, P. Tourret in litt. 2009) and more research needs to be conducted to assess the level of threat windfarms pose to the species. Other less significant threats include electrocution and collision with powerlines (Mionnet 2007, P. Tourret in litt. 2009), hunting and trapping (Mionnet 2007, P. Tourret in litt. 2009), road-kills, deforestation, egg-collection (on a local scale) and possibly competition with the generally more successful Black Kite M. migrans (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001, Cardiel in litt. 200, Mammen 2007, Cardiel and Viñuela 2007). Another factor implicated in the declines in France and Spain is a decrease in the number of rubbish dumps (Mionnet 2007, Cardiel and Viñuela 2007).
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Smart, J., Amar, A., Sim, I.M.W., Etheridge, B., Cameron, D., Christie, G. and Wilson, J.D. 2010. Illegal killing slows population recovery of a re-introduced raptor of high conservation concern - the Red Kite Milvus milvus. Biological Conservation 143(5): 1278-1286
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