Red Kite Information & FAQ's

4. The Breeding Season, Nests and Chicks

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A chick being ringed and wingtagged

Please remember, it is an offence to intentionally disturb red kites at or near a nest site. They are especially sensitive to human disturbance during the early period of the nesting season. They are a Schedule I bird, and are fully protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The red kite will normally begin to breed during its second and sometimes third year.

Most of the birds usually mate for life. If they are unsuccessful at rearing young, they will occasionally pair off with a new partner.

Aerial displays are often seen during the breeding season, with both birds flying close together, one behind the other. Circling the nest wood is also seen, sometimes ending with the bird descending into a steep dive.

The kites usually start selecting their nest sites in March, which is when the aerial displays are seen on a regular basis. Kites are often seen carrying twigs back to a wood, as well as wool, and other materials, used for lining the nest.

THE NEST. The nest is built high up in a tree usually on the edge of woodland, which enables a smooth flightpath into the nest for the large winged parents. A large number of nests are built in beech trees in the Chilterns. The nest consists of twigs and a neat 'bowl' usually lined with sheep wool or other material. Kites are known to 'decorate' their nests with items such as lottery tickets, teddy bears, plastic bags, gloves, etc.

THE EGGS AND THE CHICKS. The red kite usually lays between 1 and 4 eggs in April. Clutches of 2 and 3 are quite common in the Chilterns. Incubation is +/- 30-34 days, with both parents incubating the eggs, although the female does most of it, with the male only sitting for short periods. One notable observation, is that the male rarely appears to settle and 'relax' when incubating the eggs. The female, on the other hand, is much more settled.

A couple of days interval between each egg hatching is normal. This is a survival mechanism, ensuring the first hatched chick is bigger and stronger than the last one to hatch. It enables the oldest chick to take the majority of the food on offer, should it be in short supply.

Once hatched, the chicks are fed by both parents. It is quite normal behaviour for the smallest chick to be attacked by its siblings, if food is in short supply. Once again, this ensures the survival of the fittest. If the young one dies, it can be fed to its siblings. This isn't always the case, and quite often all chicks survive well enough to fledge.

For the first 3-4 weeks, the parents will tear pieces of food into small pieces to give to the chicks. Gradually, food is left for the chicks to feed themselves.

A chick - about 5 weeks old is ringed. Note the fluffy down is still visible, especially on top of its head.

As the chicks grow, the white 'fluffy' down is eventually replaced by brown feathers (see photo, left).

The chicks become more active - at times seen balancing precariously on the edge of the nest vigorously flapping their wings, before they begin jumping onto branches close by. Not always easy when there are three rapidly growing chicks in the nest! This behaviour of wing flapping continues for a couple of weeks before they finally leave the nest when they are 7-8 weeks old - usually during the first couple of weeks in July. The young will often return to the nest for a further couple of weeks, feeding on food left by the parents.