Black kites set to colonise the UK for the first time

The birds are likely to breed in Britain in the near future due to climate warming.

The black kite, a brown bird of prey with five-foot wing span and acrobatic flying skills is set to breed in the UK for the first time.

The close cousin to the red kite is abundant in Europe but has never lived in Britain. However, the warming climate is believed to be leading the bird to expand its territory to the north and the raptor has recently been spotted over the UK’s southern shores.

The sightings are backed up by research from the British Trust of Ornithology, which states that black kites are one of 10 birds likely to colonise the UK in the coming years as average temperatures increase.

Since 2010, an average of 25 black kites are spotted in the UK every year, most commonly in Kent.

Bird expert David Tomlinson said there is a strong chance a pair will nest in the next decade. He spotted a black kite above his home in Suffolk in April last year.

‘If you wanted to put money on a likely colonist, then this handsome, adaptable bird does seem a pretty good bet,’ he told Bird Watching. ‘Hot summers […] seem likely to increase the odds of nesting taking place.

‘However, it should be remembered that like most raptors, black kites are reluctant to cross broad stretches of water, making the English Channel a major deterrent. If it wasn’t for the Channel, I’m sure that these birds would already be nesting here.’

Gareth Cunningham, the RSPB’s head of nature policy, said the birds are unlikely to have any conflict of interest with existing birds of prey and their arrival in the UK could be the result of natural migrations.

The black kite’s close cousin, the red kite, is common in the UK thanks to a reintroduction programme which grew dwindling numbers to more than 1,800 breeding pairs. Black kites are similar in size to red kites, but a darker shade of brown than their cousins.

Each spring black kites migrate up from sub-Saharan Africa to have their chicks in Europe. The continent supports a population of at least 65,000 breeding pairs.

The birds are opportunistic feeders and often pick up dead animals or steal from other birds of prey. They often hunt near lakes and rivers, as well as at landfill sites where there is an abundance of prey.

Black kites are social birds and acrobatic flyers, catching food without slowing down.