Red Kite Milvus milvus


Justification of Red List Category
This species is now listed as Least Concern, as the population has been increasing at a rate that itself has been increasing for a number of years. Previously, Red Kite was listed as Near Threatened because of a suspected moderately rapid population decline, owing mostly to poisoning from pesticides and persecution, and changes in land-use amongst other threats. However, these declines have been more than compensated by increases in the majority of countries within its range, at a rate that means that declines over the past three generations have been overcome. There are still declines in southern Spain, Portugal, and locally in Germany and perhaps France, and the species has recently been lost as a breeding species in Morocco. Poisoning (both deliberate and accidental) remains the greatest threat to continued population growth and threatens the persistence of the species regionally, especially in southern Iberia. However, overall the data indicate that the global population has increased by more than 30% over the last three generations and the species is assessed as Least Concern.

Population justification
Recent data submitted to the European Commission for EU countries (which hold at least 90% of the global population) estimated a total of 29,746- 34,751 pairs breeding in 17 countries (BirdLife International in prep.), closely matching a new global estimate of c. 35,000 pairs (A. Aebischer in litt. 2020). The global population is therefore estimated to be between 60,000-70,000 mature individuals.

This is a substantial increase from the numbers previously reported: 25,200-33,400 pairs for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015), and 21,000-25,000 pairs in 2009.

Trend justification
Although this species declined globally until the 1970s owing to persecution, many populations recovered or stabilised during 1970-1990 (Mionnet 2007) and its overall numbers were probably stable in Europe from 1970 to 1990 (Tucker and Heath 1994). A decline occurred within core breeding areas - Spain, France and Germany - between 1990 and at the early 2000s, but these were partly offset by rapid increases in the U.K., Sweden, Poland and Switzerland. Data collated from across the range and submitted to the European Commission (EC) under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive in late 2019 indicates that the species is now stable or increasing in the majority of countries in which it occurs, including Germany (Grüneberg & Karthäuser 2019), France (David et al. 2017) and Spain (Molina 2015: though declines continue in the south). Only in Portugal was the species determined to be decreasing (BirdLife International in prep.). In addition, in Morocco it is believed to be extinct as a breeding species: 20 pairs were known in 1987 (Bergier 1987) but numbers declined with the last known nest located in 2004 (Radi et al. 2020). Small numbers continue to occur in winter (Radi et al. 2020).   

Distribution and population

This species is endemic to the western Palearctic, with the European population of 32,200-37,700 pairs, which equates to 64,400-75,400 mature individuals from an area encompassing more than 95% of the breeding range (A. Aebischer in litt. 2020). It breeds from Spain and Portugal east through central Europe to Ukraine, north to southern Sweden, Latvia and the U.K., and south to southern Italy. Populations winter within the western breeding range, and formerly in isolated patches south and east to eastern Turkey. It is now only a winter visitor in small numbers to Morocco, having recently become extinct as a breeding species (Radi et al. 2020). Its status as a breeding and wintering species in North Africa is now uncertain.

The largest breeding populations are now in Germany (14,000-16,000 pairs), the U.K. (4,388 pairs), Sweden (3,100-4,100 pairs), France (3,000-3,900 pairs), Switzerland (2,800-3,400 pairs) and Spain (2,312-2,440 pairs) (BirdLife International in prep., Knaus et al. 2018). These six countries together now hold over 90% of the global population, indicating a shift in the core abundance of the species towards central and northern Europe, with conservation reintroductions contributing to some of this shift (Stevens et al. 2019). 

The species previously suffered a moderate to rapid decline, and the population overall declined by almost 20% during 1990-2000 (BirdLife International 2004). In Germany, the population is now stable (Gerlach et al. 2019), though with regional variation (increases in the south and west, but stable or declining elsewhere [Grüneberg and Karthäuser 2019]) and it is estimated the population is currently still 16% lower than in the late 1980s. Eastern German populations declined by 25-30% between 1991 and 1997, but then stabilised (Mammen 2000, Mammen and Stubbe 2002), whereas in the federal state Saxony-Anhalt the decline continued until 2006 (Mammen 2007). The populations of the northern foothills of the Harz Mts (the most densely populated part of its range) suffered an estimated 50% decline from 1991-2001 (Nicolai and Weihe 2001)

There is little consolidated data to judge the extent of declines in France during the last century, but comparing counts from 1980 and 2000 suggests a decline of up to 80% in some areas, during which time the species's range in France decreased by 15% (A. Mionnet in litt. 2005, Thiollay and Bretagnolle 2004). A national survey conducted in 2008 revealed a decline of more than 20% of the French breeding population over 6 years (David and Mionnet 2010), with the breeding population declining from 3,000-3,900 pairs in 2002 (Mionnet 2007) to 2,335-3,022 pairs in 2008 (Pinaud et al. 2009). The trend for the French population between 1998 and 2011 was estimated to be decreasing by 25% (BirdLife International 2015); however the trend now appears stable or even increasing locally (F. David in litt. 2020).

In Spain the declining trend continued in the breeding population to the census in 2014, with the three generation population reduction using data from the 1994 and 2014 censuses being 44% (Molina 2015). Much of this decline is in the south, and the species is at risk of extirpation from Doñana National Park (Sergio et al. 2019). The Balearic Islands population declined from 41-47 breeding pairs in 1993 to 27 in 2004 (Cardiel 2006); however, conservation actions have since enabled the population to recover, to 38 breeding pairs in 2007 (Cardiel in litt. 2007) and this trend has continued (Molina 2015). A rapid decline is also thought to have occurred in Portugal, but without quantification except for a reported 50% reduction in the occupied area (H. Alonso in litt. 2020): this was however based only on eBird records that include breeding codes, in comparison to the 1999-2005 breeding bird atlas (Equipa Atlas 2008).

Populations elsewhere are generally stable or increasing. In Switzerland, populations increased during the 1990s to 1,200-1,500 in 2008 and continued to increase (Aebischer 2009, Knott et al. 2009, A. Aebischer in litt. 2020). Successful reintroductions in northern Italy have increased populations in Tuscany and Marche (Brichetti & Fracasso 2018) and the trend is an increase of 20-35% between 2007-2018 (BirdLife International in prep.), but it is almost extinct in Sicily (Ientile & Massa 2008, C. Celada & M. Gustin in litt. 2020).The population in Belgium was estimated at 150 breeding pairs in 2007 (Knott et al. 2009), following an increase from 1-2 irregular pairs in 1967 (Defourny et al. 2007) and is now estimated at between 350-400 pairs (A. Aebischer in litt. 2020). In Poland the population is estimated at 1,500-1,800 pairs with an increasing population trend of c.75% between 2007 and 2012 (BirdLife International 2015). In Sweden the species increased from 30-50 pairs in the 1970s to 1,800 pairs in 2007 (L. Lindell in litt. 2005, Å. Lindström in litt. 2005, Knott et al. 2009). The rate of increase in Sweden has been recorded as 7.1% annually during 1982-2006 or 13% annually during 1998-2006, depending on the survey method used (Å. Lindström in litt. 2007). The Swedish population is currently estimated at 3,100-4,100 pairs with an increasing trend of 50-100% between 2007 and 2018 (BirdLife International in prep.). A rough calculation suggests that Sweden could support 5,000-10,000 pairs once the species has reached carrying capacity (N. Kjellén in litt. 2008). In Denmark, the population increased from 17 known breeding pairs in 2001 to 81 breeding pairs in 2009 (Hjembæk 2010). The Danish population in 2017 was estimated at 200 pairs, with the population experiencing a 590% increase between 2006 and 2017 (BirdLife International in prep). Since an extreme low during the 20th century, the U.K. population has increased in recent decades and was estimated to number 1,600 breeding pairs in 2008 (Knott et al. 2009), and an estimated 4,388 pairs in 2016, extrapolated using BBS trends from the final Rare Breeding Birds Report (BirdLife International in prep, Holling & the Rare Breeding Bird Panel 2012)This population is still increasing rapidly and a long-term estimate for future carrying capacity is a minimum of 20,000 pairs (I. Carter in litt. 2016)

Overall, the species's previous population decline has now been reversed by the rapid increases in several countries, as demonstrated by the shifts in the location of the bulk of the breeding population. Previously the majority of the global population wintered in Spain, but increasingly birds are remaining on their northern European breeding grounds, or moving only depending on the resource availability nearby. Those populations that winter outside of Spain are generally increasing. Therefore, while serious declines are expected to continue in parts of southern Europe, these are presently being countered by increases elsewhere.


The species breeds in broadleaf woodlands and forests, mixed with farmland, pasture and heathland, up to 1,600 m in Switzerland (A. Aebischer in litt. 2016) and formerly possibly 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 and is now frequent in suburban areas where they will visit gardens (Orros & Fellowes 2014). 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.

Many birds in north-east Europe are migratory, wintering mainly in southern France and Iberia, but with some travelling as far as North 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). Birds are usually seen singly or in pairs, but sometimes form small flocks when soaring on migration (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001) or at open waste disposal sites. The availability of high density reliable food provided by landfill managed in certain ways may influence the degree to which kites are sedentary in an area (Evans and Pienkowski 1991): high availability of roadkill may also influence movement decisions. 


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 may drive rapid population declines (e.g. see Villafuerte et al. 1998, Mougeot et al. 2011, A. Aebischer in litt. 2009); there has been reported a strong correlation between rapid declines and those populations that winter in Spain (Carter 2007). An estimate of 430-1,800 individuals killed illegally in Spain annually indicates that this remains a significant problem for birds that do migrate and for the regional population (Brochet et al. 2016). 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 (J. Viñuela in litt. 2009). The total of recovered, confirmed poisoning cases in Spain is 1,187 individuals found dead between 1992 and 2015 (Cano et al. 2016). In north Scotland, 40% of birds found dead between 1989 and 2006 were found to have been killed by poisoning (Smart et al. 2010).

In France populations disappeared at the same rate as conversion from grasslands to cereal crops (P. 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 threat (Duchamp 2003, Mammen et al. 2009, Schaub 2012, P. Tourret in litt. 2009); 18 Red Kite were located having been killed by collisions with windfarms in 2019 (F. David in litt. 2020). 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) (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001, 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).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. CITES Appendix II. Annex II Bern Convention. The species is on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive and has been the the focus of close monitoring and targeted conservation actions across most of its range, including a highily successful reintroduction to large parts of the U.K. since 1989 (English Nature 1995, RSPB 2007, Stevens et al. 2019). Since 2007, further reintroduction projects are aiming to re-establish Red Kites in Tuscany and in the Marche (Italy), the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland - the first breeding attempt in the Republic was recorded in 2009. 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, France, the Balearic Islands and Denmark, and a draft national action plan is in place in Portugal. Ongoing research in Germany aims to examine further the impact of windfarms on the red kite breeding population in this country. In 2007, for the first time, three young birds in France were fitted with satellite transmitters, although only one provided regular information (Mionnet 2007). In Spain, radio-tracking was carried out in Segovia in 2006-2007.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor population trends and breeding productivity. Continue to manage reintroduction projects. Regulate the use of pesticides, especially in France and Spain. Reduce persecution through law enforcement, prosecutions and awareness campaigns. Carry out further studies into the impact of changing land-use practices. Lobby for changes in EU and national agricultural policies. Increase the area of suitable woodland and forest with protected status. Work with land-owners to protect habitat and prevent persecution. Consider extending supplementary feeding to more areas of low food availability. Ensure national legislation on animal by-products takes into account the needs of scavengers. Promote control on feeding stations to be compliant with sanitary regulations.


Text account compilers
Martin, R.

Aebischer, A., Alonso, H., Barov, B., Cardiel, I., Carter, I., Celada, C., Cross, A., David, F., Ignacio, A., Iñigo, A., Katzenberger, J., Keller, V., Kjellén, N., Knaus, P., Lindell, L., Lindström, A., López-Jiménez, N., Madroño, A., Mammen, U., Mionnet, A., Newberry, P., Selmani, J., Seyer, H., Tourret, P., Viñuela, J., Ashpole, J, Bird, J., Derhé, M., Khwaja, N., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.R.S., Staneva, A., Burfield, I. & Fernando, E.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Milvus milvus. Downloaded from on 25/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/10/2021.