RSPB NI is asking members of the public to report any sightings of majestic red kites as we enter the 2021 breeding season.

If you are out walking in and around Castlewellan, Katesbridge, Moneyslane, Ballyward in County Down or spending time in the Mournes as stay local restrictions ease, let us know if you spot any red kites. County Down remains the hot-spot for these striking birds of prey, but they have been seen all over Northern Ireland in recent years – on the north coast in County Antrim and out west in Fermanagh.

Sightings from members of the public are incredibly valuable in our work to monitor and protect red kites. Last year we received more than 400 sightings emails.

While our staff were unable to monitor red kites in the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 restrictions, information from members of the public and volunteers who were able to look out for kites close to their homes during the first lockdown indicated at least 24 nests in County Down; this would be the highest number recorded since they were reintroduced to Northern Ireland over a decade ago.

Red kites were sadly persecuted to extinction more than 200 years ago because people mistakenly saw them as a threat to game and livestock. In 2008, RSPB NI joined forces with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species to Northern Ireland’s skies. Over two years, dozens of young red kites were released into County Down and every year since 2010 these re-introduced kites have produced their own chicks.

You can report red kite sightings to us by emailing

Let us know the date, time and location of your sighting.

And, if you can spot these details through camera/telescope/binoculars, tell us:

The wing tag colours.

The wing tag letter or number combination.

How to identify a red kite:

Red kites are reddish brown with black wingtips and a silver grey head, usually seen slowly flapping their long, slender wings (up to five and a half feet in length) which are held at a shallow angle or using their distinctive V-shaped forked tail like a rudder as they soar at height.

They are sometimes confused with buzzards (see below), but buzzards lack the forked tail; they have a fanned tail. Buzzards are almost wholly cream but are mostly brown and are also rather compact with broad wings and a short neck, and are smaller than red kites.

At this time of year, red kites will be displaying and nest building. The birds can be seen carrying nesting material (grass, sticks, twigs, pieces of paper, plastic and cloth to line and decorate the nest.) Their preferred trees include oaks, pines and sycamores.

Most red kites in Northern Ireland have been fitted with a small brown tag on their left wing and a coloured tag for year of birth on their right wing to help with individual identification. Once restrictions eased towards the end of last summer, a small number of nests were visited so that wing-tags could be fitted to red kite chicks. See video (below) of wing-tagging in the 2018 season, filmed by Waddell Media.