Thursday 24 February 2011


Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Immature. 27.12.2010 (Ángel Sánchez)

The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) has just been officially listed as a species "In danger of extinction" in the new Spanish catalogue of threatened species. The reason for this sad milestone is the dramatic plunge in its population due to the illegal use of poisoned bait. Over 200 poisoned Red Kites have been found in Spain over the last five years, although SEO/BirdLife puts the real figure much higher at about 7000. More than a thousand a year! A staggering figure and a tragic toll on this and other raptors.

The Red Kite is endemic to Europe and is hence one of the best known birds of prey. The ample information to hand shows a drastic population change in recent decades, varying from region to region. Numbers have built up to unprecedented levels in Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, while the population has plummeted to an all-time low in the Iberian Peninsula, France and maybe Germany as well. This trend prompted an international symposium in France in 2009 to weigh up the global situation of the species. Although a couple of years have passed since then it is still worthwhile summing up the main findings of that meeting.

* The Red Kite breeds regularly in 20 countries, all in Europe, and its worldwide population is reckoned to be 20,700 to 24,900 pairs.
* Germany accounts for 50%; France and Spain together another 20%; and the UK, Sweden and Switzerland another 20%. This means that 90% of the population breeds in only six countries.
* The overall C20th trend was downwards. From 1990 to 2000 it increased in a few countries but numbers continued to fall in Germany, France and Spain. After 2000 it continued to fall in France and Spain, held steady in Germany and increased in some countries where more and more birds are now overwintering, like UK, Switzerland, Italy and Sweden (Aebischer, 2009).
* In Spain the last Red Kite count was carried out in 2004, with an estimated figure of about 2100 pairs, 46% down on the previous count of 1994. The estimated wintering population in 2004 was 36,000 birds, half of the estimated 70,000 figure ten years earlier (Cardiel, 2006).
* In Extremadura the 2005 count throws up a figure of 250-310 breeding pairs and 7700 wintering birds. The trend is bleak with a 65% breeding-season decline in 10 years (85% in Badajoz). The decline in the wintering population was less, 33%, albeit centred solely in Badajoz (Prieta, 2007).
* In recent years a greater inflow into the Iberian Peninsual through the western Pyrenees has been detected (Urcun and Codaccioni, 2009).
- Aebischer, A. 2009. Distribution and recent population changes of the Red Kite in the Western Palaearctic - results of a recent comprehensive inquiry. Proceedings of the Red Kite international Symposium, October 17th & 18th 2009, Montbéliard, France.
- Cardiel, I. 2006. El milano real en España. II censo nacional (2004). SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.
- Prieta, J. 2007. El milano real en Extremadura (1994-2005). Unpublished report for SEO/BirdLife.
- Urcun, J. P. & Codaccioni, O. F. 2009. The Migration of the Red Kite over the Pyrenees. Proceedings of the Red Kite international Symposium, October 17th & 18th 2009, Montbéliard, France.