Red Kite

Milvus milvus

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Rhodri Phillipps

Red Kites are a bird of prey found throughout Europe. Their forked tails and red colouration making them easy to identify even as they fly at high altitudes. Like most European birds of prey their diet consists of a wide range of small mammals such as rabbits and hares, as well as other birds. Persecuted heavily in the 20th century their numbers declined dramatically, especially in the UK where they almost went extinct. However their population numbers are increasing, in part due to conservation efforts and reintroductions.

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Distribution:

Found throughout Europe, this species ranges as far West as Portugal and into Russia in the East. Historical ranges have shown the species moving into Africa from Morroco. However, current data suggests these populations no longer exist or have returned to Spain.

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Habitat:

The red kite spends most of its time in forests, nesting and living in large patches of broadleaf woodland. It can be seen hunting above farms and grasslands, looking for prey. It is also known to be an active scavenger, coming close to human settlements and urban centres in search of food, often in the form of roadkill.

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Diet:

Like most European birds of prey, the red kite largely feeds on small herbivorous mammals like rabbits, hares and even rodents. It has occasionally been seen to eat reptiles and amphibians, suggesting it is more of a generalist predator.

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Threats:

The primary threat to the red kite is persecution and intentional killing to protect livestock and game birds from being predated. In the UK they were hunted to extinction in England and Scotland before being protected in Wales. They also suffered declines as a result of pesticides like DDT, intentional release of Myxomatosis virus in rabbit populations and other harmful farming practices that reduced food sources.

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Conservation status:

Currently classified as Least Concern the species is in a steady recovery with numbers increasing to around 70,000 individuals. Around 20% of the global population currently live in the UK which has become a stronghold for the species.