You normally get your first clue that red kites are breeding locally from their behaviour. Courtship takes place during February and March and can involve two birds flying one behind the other using deep, exaggerated wing-beats, followed by a vigourous chase. If you see pairs of kites circling over a woodland and calling to each other, then plunging onto the canopy, or carrying twigs or sheep's wool into a tree, it’s a good sign they are nesting there. During April, you may even be lucky enough to spot pairs of red kites copulating in trees.
Nest building and maintenance starts around March and can continue throughout the breeding season. Red kites' nests are generally large (around 2 feet across) and messy, comprising mainly of large sticks placed in an apparently haphazard manner. They are often positioned in a major fork of a tree with strong supporting branches, or sometimes balanced on a lateral branch, as pictured here. They are lined with sheep’s wool or dry grass and are often decorated with paper, rags, string and scraps of plastic which can sometimes be seen hanging from the main nest.
Red kites tend to use the same nests year after year, adding more material each year, but will sometimes move to a new site if a nest has been unsuccessful, so many of the birds whose nests failed in the wet weather of 2012 may have changed location this year. Also, as the population is still increasing, new pairs will establish breeding territories each year.
The red kite population in the Chilterns has been monitored since the first birds were released here in the early 1990s. This monitoring is done by volunteers from the Southern England Kite Group, who keep records of territorial pairs and known nest sites, as well as details of any red kites spotted with coloured plastic wing tags (especially if the colours and numbers on the tags can be read as this confirms the identity of individual birds). You can also let them know about any red kites found dead.
Reports can be made directly to the Southern England Kite Group by calling Pete Stevens on 07761 205 833
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