Red Kite Milvus milvus


Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is experiencing a moderately rapid population decline, owing mostly to poisoning from pesticides and persecution, and changes in land-use amongst other threats. Despite the current rapid declines in southern Europe, if population increases in northern range states are sustained the species may qualify for downlisting in the future.

Population justification
A review of available data in 2009 concluded that the population numbered 21,000-25,500 pairs. The European Red List of Birds recently assessed the population at 25,200-33,400 pairs (BirdLife International 2015).

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). Since 1990, declines documented within its core breeding areas - Spain, France and Germany - have been partly offset by increases in countries like the U.K., Sweden, Poland and Switzerland. In Europe the population size was recently estimated to be decreasing at a rate approaching 30% in 34.5 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). This three generation rate of decline is likely to increase in the short term as numbers continue to fall in Iberia, but in the longer-term a reduction in the rate of decline, and even population increases are likely if current trends in the UK and Sweden are sustained. Therefore, a moderately rapid decline over three generations is retained for the present; this will be reviewed in the future.

Distribution and population

This species is endemic to the western Palearctic, with the European population of 25,200-33,400 pairs, which equates to 50,400-66,800 mature individuals encompassing 95% or more of its global breeding range (Mammen 2007, Aebischer 2010, BirdLife International 2015). 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. Its status as a breeding and wintering species in North Africa is now uncertain. The three largest populations are in Germany (12,000-18,000 pairs]), France (2,335-3,022 pairs) and Spain (3,810-4,150 pairs; although more recent estimates place the population here at 2,312-2,440 pairs, with an over-wintering population of 50,297 individuals in 2013-2014 [Molina 2015]), which together hold around 75% of the global population (Knott et al. 2009, BirdLife International 2015). The populations in these three countries all declined during 1990-2000, and overall the species declined by almost 20% over that period (BirdLife International 2004). The population trend in all three countries is currently estimated to be declining (BirdLife International 2015). Eastern German populations declined by 25-30% between 1991 and 1997, but have remained stable since then (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). In Spain, the species showed an overall decline in breeding population of 46% for the period 1994 to 2004, and surveys of wintering birds in 2004 suggest a decline of around 50% since 1994 (Cardiel 2006). However, an alternative study showed that the population decline in Spain 1994-2014 may instead be 27-42% (Molina 2015, J. Viñuela in litt. 2016) and overall numbers in the country may have been relatively stable; although this has not been a general stabilisation, more a result of local increases and declines (J. Viñuela in litt2016). In France, breeding populations have decreased in the north-east, and in the north and east Massif Central, but seem to be stable in southwest and central France and Corsica (A. Mionnet in litt. 2005, Mionnet 2007). 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). A survey in January 2007 indicated that the wintering population in France numbered nearly 6,000 individuals, with most in the Pyrenees (Mionnet 2007). The trend for the French population between 1998 and 2011 was estimated to be decreasing by 25% (BirdLife International 2015). 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)
Populations elsewhere are generally stable or increasing. In Switzerland, populations increased during the 1990s to 1,200-1,500 in 2008 and continue to increase (Aebischer 2009, Knott et al. 2009, A. Aebischer in litt. 2016). 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). 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 1,900-2,200 pairs with an increasing trend of 100-200% between 2001 and 2012 (BirdLife International 2015). 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 2012 was estimated at 100 pairs, with the population experiencing a 530% increase between 1999 and 2011 (BirdLife International 2015). 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 potentially 3,000-6,000 pairs in 2015, although there is considerable uncertainty attached to this estimate due to a lack of recent censuses (I. Carter in litt. 2016). 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 population has declined in recent years owing to rapid declines in Iberia for resident breeding birds, and migrants that winter in Spain. Previously the majority of the global population wintered in Spain, but increasingly birds are remaining on their northern European breeding grounds. Those populations that winter outside of Spain are generally increasing. Therefore, while serious declines are expected to continue in southern Europe and therefore in the global population as a whole, as northern populations increase, it is anticipated that their growth will eventually outweigh declines in Iberia.


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 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. 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. Most birds in north-east Europe are migratory, wintering mainly in southern France and Iberia, but with some travelling as far as 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).


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). 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). Illegal poisoning is also a serious threat to the species. In north Scotland, 40% of birds found dead between 1989 and 2006 having been killed by poisoning (Smart et al. 2010), while in Spain 1,187 individuals were found dead from poisoning between 1992 and 2015 (Cano et al. 2016). 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 future threat (Duchamp 2003, Mammen et al. 2009, Schaub 2012, P. Tourret in litt. 2009). 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) and possibly competition with the generally more successful Black Kite M. migrans (Cardiel in litt. 2000, 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 is the the focus of close monitoring and targeted conservation actions across most of its range, including reintroduction to parts of the U.K. since 1989 (English Nature 1995, RSPB 2007). 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
Taylor, J., Derhé, M., Khwaja, N., Ashpole, J, Bird, J., Westrip, J., Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Harding, M.

Aebischer, A., Cardiel, I., Carter, I., Cross, A., Ignacio, A., Keller, V., Lindell, L., Lindström, A., Madroño, A., Mammen, U., Mionnet, A., Newberry, P., Seyer, H., Tourret, P., Kjellén, N., Barov, B., López-Jiménez, N., Viñuela, J. & Iñigo, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Milvus milvus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 11/08/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 11/08/2020.