Red kite, adult at nest with chicks, in oak

Nesting and breeding habits

Adult red kites are sedentary birds, and they occupy their breeding home range throughout the year.

Nesting

Each nesting territory can contain up to five alternative nest sites. Both birds build the nest on a main fork or a limb high in a tree, 12-20m above the ground. It is constructed of dead twigs and lined with grass and sheep’s wool. 

A couple of days prior to egg laying, kites decorate the nest with rubbish and oddments they find near the nest. Paper, rags, crisp packets, carrier bags, even underwear and toys have been recorded.

New material is added to the nest throughout the breeding season, and a nest that has been in use for a number of seasons grows to a considerable size. If nesting is successful, the same nest is used the following year. At times they will use an old buzzard or raven nest.

Red Kite with chicks in a tree.

Breeding timeline

The female lays a clutch of 1-3 (occasionally 4) eggs at 3-day intervals in April. She incubates mainly alone for 31-32 days per egg (38 days for a clutch of 3).

Incubation starts with the first egg, and so the hatching is spread over several days. The male provides her with food during incubation. She rarely leaves the eggs unattended for more than a few minutes at a time.

The female cares for the young while the male provisions all food for her and the young for the first two weeks after hatching. After this, the female will share foraging, and the young are able to feed themselves from food placed in the nest. 

From one week of age aggression between siblings may become apparent, but this is rarely the direct cause of death of the younger ones. The fledging period is variable, depending on the size of the brood and food availability. The young may start to clamber about the nest tree by 45 days of age, but rarely fledge before 48-50 days, sometimes not until 60-70 days. 

Parents care for them in the vicinity of the nest for a further 15-20 days, after which time the juveniles may wander many miles from their birthplace before returning as adults to their home area. The young birds will usually breed for the first time when they are two years old.

Those individuals that reach maturity can expect to live an average of 10 years. The oldest known wild kite was 26 years old.

Red kite in oak tree