Red Kite

31 July 2020 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Birds
Red Kite
Red Kite (cropped) © Sean Stones

By Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer

The Red Kite is an increasingly familiar sight in the skies above Sussex, soaring effortlessly over the South Downs on an almost-six-foot wingspan. These magnificent birds are still outnumbered by their Buzzard brethren but they share a similar story, both bouncing back from the brink of extinction.

 Just 50 years ago there were only a handful of Red Kites left, clinging on to their last remaining stronghold deep in the wilds of Wales.Their location was a closely guarded secret, both on paper and in person. The 1968-72 breeding bird maps deliberately showed a vague, red circle somewhere over mid-Wales, and guards were set on the ground to protect the precious nests from egg collectors and bounty hunters. But how did this sad situation arise?

Just a few centuries earlier, Red Kites were as common as pigeons and equally urban, even in London – Shakespeare’s ‘city of kites and crows’. As scavengers, they picked the filthy streets clean and their highly-valued services earned protection by royal decree. But attitudes shifted over time and the Red Kite fell from grace when it was mistakenly viewed as a threat to livestock and gamebirds. With a bounty on its head, the species was driven to extinction in England and Scotland by 1879. Rather belated conservation efforts began in 1903 but by then every surviving bird was descended from a single Welsh female. With the population in such a severe genetic bottleneck and struggling against bad weather, lack of food due to myxomatosis in rabbits and eggshell thinning caused by organochlorine pesticides, the odds were stacked against their natural recovery.

Decisive action was needed and the first reintroductions were made in 1989, when six Swedish birds were released in Scotland and a further four (plus one Welsh) in Buckinghamshire. By 1992 they were breeding successfully and two years later, the first wild-reared Kites reared young of their own. Further reintroductions went just as well and in 2006, a red kite was spotted over London for the first time in 150 years. It’s an incredible success story and, though some hazards remain, there’s every indication the Red Kite will thrive into the future.


  • Maire:

    03 Aug 2020 15:48:00

    We saw two red kites last week over our house in Lancing, being mobbed by a flock of gulls.

    Interesting! Thank you for telling us. Emma
  • Ting Plaskett:

    13 Aug 2020 10:33:53

    Only last week I was telling a fellow walker above Firle that I didn’t think they’d spread this far south yet – so I definitely stand corrected! But I did also advise them to double check on the SWT website. I’ll keep an extra watchful eye on my next downland walk.

  • jane Holbrook:

    13 Aug 2020 11:25:00

    I see buzzards regularly in the Heathfield and surrounding area but have yet to see a Red Kite overhead!

  • Alan Buckle:

    13 Aug 2020 11:25:00

    Have seen twice in Wadhurst. Not sure whether they are nesting here

  • Bridget Killick:

    13 Aug 2020 11:31:00

    We’ve had them flying over Chiddingly- wonderful sight.

  • Katherine Janio:

    13 Aug 2020 11:35:00

    I saw a red kite flying over the Waitrose carpark in Farnham on Monday (10th August 2020).

  • Katherine Janio:

    13 Aug 2020 11:37:00

    During lockdown, I went on several bike rides onto the South Downs near my house in Hangleton, Hove, E Sussex. I spotted on more than one occasion a red kite flying over the fields along the Dyke Railway track. I also saw one flying over my house. Very exciting, as that was my very first sighting.

  • Stephen Killick:

    13 Aug 2020 11:38:00

    Have seen one bird twice between Chiddingly and East Hoathly, once swooping low across our back garden.

  • Paul:

    13 Aug 2020 11:45:00

    We have seen a Red Kite several times this week over Offham at the base of the Downs.

  • Joanne Burton:

    13 Aug 2020 11:45:00

    Have seen the same red kite over a tennis club in Surrey That we go to, and in Worthing along Titnore lane

  • Michael Evans:

    13 Aug 2020 11:47:00

    At my property in Binsted Village near Arundal, we have resident Buzzards and visiting Kites. the interaction between all species of birds of prey is incredible 👌we are blessed 💕

  • Jon Taylor:

    13 Aug 2020 12:03:34

    I’ve loved watching red kites for many years and used to see them in abundance above and over the Thames Valley at Windsor. They gradually spread southwards through the Surrey Hills and must have just kept going! After I moved to Eastbourne in March last year, I started to see them soaring on the convection currents over the South Downs in East Sussex! I believe that since their successful reintroduction in the Chilterns, they have really thrived and found many suitable niches as they continue to populate our chalk downlands.

  • Jenny:

    13 Aug 2020 12:09:26

    We occasionally see red kites flying over Shermanbury

  • Chris B:

    13 Aug 2020 12:11:13

    We had one a few weeks ago over the River Adur in Shoreham town centre! The gulls started alarm calling- we looked up and there was a Red Kite just north of the Adur Ferry Bridge

  • Sally males:

    13 Aug 2020 12:20:04

    Been seeing a pair of red kites regularly in the last few weeks over Warbleton and Punnetts Town meat Heathfield – amazing to see.

  • Mr Tim O'malley:

    13 Aug 2020 12:22:32

    I see the occasionally Red Kite over our garden in Hassocks and at the old waterhall golf course. Unfortunately we often see buzzards being mocked by gulls that have decided to relocate to Hassocks.

  • Hermine Baldwin:

    13 Aug 2020 12:29:34

    Thats such great news. How could people wipe out our precious wildlife. Its monstrous.

  • Sallyjain Warburton:

    13 Aug 2020 12:35:20

    I have always delighted to watch Kites. This morning we saw a juvenile Kite sitting on the tip of a large tree – mewing for its parents

  • Wendy:

    13 Aug 2020 12:39:46

    On three occasions have seen a lone kite flying around over East Grinstead. Buzzards are nesting in woods near farmland for the second year.

  • Susie and Martin Taylor:

    13 Aug 2020 12:40:39

    We have seen these wonderful birds soarling along the line of hills leading to the Downs from Angmering to Amberly. Spotted when cycling on nearly every ride. Sometimes lucky enough to see a pair. So good they are now doing so well.

  • Sue:

    13 Aug 2020 12:52:09

    I have seen red kites over our house in Storrington, West Sussex

  • Kevin Edwards:

    13 Aug 2020 12:55:07

    This year for the first time we had two overhead in our garden in Willingdon. Last year was lucky enough to see a group of five over Birling Gap.

  • Helen Clark:

    13 Aug 2020 12:55:47

    We regularly see both buzzards and kites here in North Horsham. Bit worrying what will happen to them, and all our wonderful wildlife when they build almost 3,000 houses on the fields and wooded areas.

  • Jane Brown:

    13 Aug 2020 12:58:22

    I have seen a pair of red kites flying over Offham near Lewes

  • Darryl-Jo:

    13 Aug 2020 13:09:29

    Last year I walked over 1000 miles in Sussex. It was unusual on any given walk for me NOT to see a red kite. When you look for them, they are there. They have become my favourite bird of prey. They love the wind, love an escarpment, and are often quite inquisitive toward a lone rambler!

  • Inger Fox:

    13 Aug 2020 13:12:58

    21/07/20 We saw a Red Kite flying near Oathall Rd in Haywards Heath being attacked/chased by Seagulls!

  • Yvette Hammond:

    13 Aug 2020 13:20:29

    We regularly see kites circling above our garden in Albourne. Just wonderful. Sometimes a pair or a single bird.

  • Danni Smith:

    13 Aug 2020 13:21:46

    We saw a pair of kites when taking a walk in Stoughton Down, West Sussex.

  • Rob Mills:

    13 Aug 2020 13:26:55

    3 sightings this year, in flight over Westmeston, not far from Ditchling Beacon

  • Teresa Little:

    13 Aug 2020 13:35:57

    We have a red kite who regularly flies over us in Nutley, though we haven’t seen it for a couple of weeks, and once we saw a pair circling above us. Wonderful to see.

  • Mr Peter E Field:

    13 Aug 2020 13:36:17

    We see red kltes and buzzards circeling regularly over our woodland in Balcombe. My son tells me that there is only one buzzard over the wood today, – the offspring of thye 2 other regular sitings, the parents maybe? We emjoyed your excellemt red kite summary Charlotte, Thank you, Peter Field

  • Sarah Lincoln:

    13 Aug 2020 13:38:02

    They fly over our house near Sharpthorne, amazing to see them as they skim the tops of the oak trees, it really gives you an idea of the size of them.

  • Christine D.:

    13 Aug 2020 13:45:02

    Hi Charlotte. A very interesting article. Thank you. I spotted what I thought was a Red Kite when out walking a few days ago at Lamberhurst (near Wadhurst, as someone has mentioned above), but assumed I had imagined it. Now I wonder if it was a Red Kite gliding above the road between Lamberhurst and Wadhurst. I hope so, as I can place in on my Tick Box list.

  • Yvonne Akehurst:

    13 Aug 2020 14:02:09

    There has been a red kite soaring above Cranleigh in Surrey in July.

  • Phill russell:

    13 Aug 2020 14:02:19

    I see red kites regularly in the valley adjacent Uppark house. I have good photographs of them if you need them if you need to identify them.

  • Lynnette Leeson:

    13 Aug 2020 14:06:23

    We regularly see red kites flying over Bury Hill and the Arun valley. They are sometimes mobbed by crows and seem to submit to more dominant buzzards whose territory they now regularly fly in. Quite a sight to see several birds of prey circling overhead on the thermals.

  • Sue & Glen Mason:

    13 Aug 2020 14:14:58

    We’ve see Red Kites on several occasions over our house in Pentland Road, Durrington

  • Vivien Hill:

    13 Aug 2020 14:18:01

    I saw a red kite over Danehill on 5th June this year. A friend’s daughter had also seen one there a couple of weeks earlier.

  • cathy bridges:

    13 Aug 2020 14:20:05

    Saw one red kite over Dallington school, near Heathfield, East Sussex on the High Weald towards the end of the summer term and a week later a pair.

  • Janet Tourell:

    13 Aug 2020 14:23:37

    I’ve seen red kites in Wales and in Buckinghamshire for years but I was very excited to see one swoop over my garden in Hadlow Down, East Sussex last week – a bit of competition for the buzzards!

  • Mike Attwood:

    13 Aug 2020 14:31:24

    I have been a keen follower of the red kite frrom when I came across the release site in the Chilterns way back in 1990. I became involved with the Welsh Kite Trust and spent much of my time in Wales. I have nearly 3000 photo’s . Now retired and living in Storrington I have red kites flying over my house.

  • 13 Aug 2020 14:38:49

    In the last 2 weeks, I have seen 3 flying above and 1 landing in the fields at Bevendean.

  • Chris Jones:

    13 Aug 2020 14:45:03

    Often see them in the skies above Bexhill being pestered by the sea gull.

  • Clive:

    13 Aug 2020 14:47:29

    So we now boast 10,000 Red Kites? If they make just 3 kills per week thats 1.5m each year, question, will another species suffer?

  • Sue Cooper:

    13 Aug 2020 14:52:46

    We see them regularly now over Pulborough, Petworth and Duncton.

  • Kevin Edwards:

    13 Aug 2020 15:07:40

    This year for the first time we had two overhead in our garden in Willingdon. Last year was lucky enough to see a group of five over Birling Gap.

  • Paul Russell:

    13 Aug 2020 15:14:43

    We were excited to see five or six Red Kite soaring just to the West of Henfield in April/May.

  • Michael Bandle:

    13 Aug 2020 15:33:23

    Have seen a red kite flying low over Sandy Cross area of Heathfield, close to Heathfield park. Another can been seen regularly hovering over Buxted allotments. Welcome to east East Sussex!

  • Wendy Jago:

    13 Aug 2020 15:36:54

    Saw one over Small Dole a few weeks ago. Yippee!

  • Jan Slinger:

    13 Aug 2020 15:50:56

    I love watch them fly, as we drive from Kent into Sussex. We have loads of Buzzards now and they are beautiful too, but this year we’ve had a Red Kite fly over our garden a few times. We get so excited and can’t wait for more of them to settle here.

  • Tony peters:

    13 Aug 2020 15:54:08

    Iv seen red kites for years over sussex , recently I was windowcleaning in Dyke Rd brighton when alarm calls from starlings I knew there was a bird of prey !!! To my surprise a kite glided over me around 40ft up , !,,,, wonderful to see .


    13 Aug 2020 17:04:22

    I have seen the occasional single Kite over the Ashdown Forest area. Quite distinctive by its forked tail and the way it soars.

  • Andrew Holloway:

    13 Aug 2020 17:18:21

    I’ve seen Red Kites passing over Haywards Heath, Ardingly and Wakehurst several times over the last couple of years. No consistent repeat sightings though, unfortunately, so it just seems to be odd birds. Still hoping to get a good photo one day.

  • Sally males:

    13 Aug 2020 17:19:29

    Been seeing a pair of red kites regularly in the last few weeks over Warbleton and Punnetts Town meat Heathfield – amazing to see.

  • Fred Wells:

    13 Aug 2020 17:44:50

    No mention of the two lots of kites flown from Spain by BA to be eventually released on Lord Nuffields estate in the Chilterns? It was this large number that really got the Red Kite population booming.

  • Alan Moore:

    13 Aug 2020 17:45:12

    We see a kite fairly regularly in the Kithurst Hill area, and occasionally two at a time.
    If you are lucky you can see them flying below you and notice the beautiful colouring on their backs and wings.

  • Steve Brennan:

    13 Aug 2020 18:09:36

    Seen solo kites regularly over mark cross and rotherfield this summer, doubtful about nesting.

  • David Sayer:

    13 Aug 2020 18:37:11

    They are becoming a fairly regular visitor over the sky’s of Steyning.

  • John Lamb:

    13 Aug 2020 18:47:14

    Saw a pair in East Preston today, first time I have seen them this far south.

  • john David Gibbs:

    13 Aug 2020 19:10:38

    I photographed a Red Kite flying over our Garden in East Grinstead on 15/05/ 20

  • Julie:

    13 Aug 2020 19:52:04

    I’m lucky to see them everyday in Chilgrove,

  • Alison Mary Ridgeway:

    13 Aug 2020 20:22:40

    We saw a red kite circling above us in Herstmonceux village back in June.

  • Barbara Agent:

    13 Aug 2020 20:52:16

    Delighted to see one over our garden. Hampden Park East Sussex.

  • 13 Aug 2020 21:17:00

    Can’t wait to see red kites soaring over St Leonards-on-Sea, I’m sure they will come. Glorious birds, I blogged about them last month.

  • Robert Simmonds:

    13 Aug 2020 23:03:00

    Frequently see them around The south downs near Harting and Compton area! Beautiful majestic bird in flight. I have to stop and wonder in ore!

  • Linda Tillson:

    14 Aug 2020 05:04:00

    Both Buzzards and Kites enjoy the skys over Basingstoke and Reading. Always an amazing sight! Thank you for all your hard work.

  • Viv Smith:

    14 Aug 2020 05:21:00

    Have spotted them on occasions, near us here at Mayfield. Last Wednesday was in my way to Hampshire via A272, and saw three near Bramdean! Such a lovely sight!

  • Sally males:

    14 Aug 2020 06:03:46

    Been seeing a pair of red kites regularly in the last few weeks over Warbleton and Punnetts Town meat Heathfield – amazing to see.

  • Phill russell:

    26 Aug 2020 21:55:41

    I see red kites regularly in the valley adjacent Uppark house. I have good photographs of them if you need them if you need to identify them.