Archived 2020 topic: Red Kite (Milvus milvus) – reclassify from Near Threatened to Least Concern

Please note: This discussion topic is one of a set about species that are endemic or nearly endemic to the European Union (EU), and whose status in the EU therefore effectively determines their global status. To ensure consistency between the 2020 global and EU Red List assessments of these species, this set of topics is being fast-tracked through BirdLife’s Globally Threatened Bird Forums to inform decisions on the EU (and global) status of relevant species, which must be finalised and communicated to the European Commission by mid-April 2020. Topics on other species will be posted on the Forums shortly, for discussion later in the spring, as per usual. The results of the 2020 global Red List update for birds will be published by IUCN and BirdLife in early December.

Red Kite Milvus milvus is virtually confined to western and central Europe, with just a small minority of its global population outside this range, in pockets of E and SE Europe and possibly still in NW Africa. The European Union (EU) holds around 95% of the European (and therefore global) breeding population, which in around 2012 was concentrated in Germany (c. 50%), Spain (c. 15%) and France (c. 10%) (BirdLife International 2015).

Globally, this species has an extremely large range (>11,000,000 km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is also very large (>50,000 mature individuals; BirdLife International 2015), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially relevant IUCN Red List Criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. When last assessed, the species’s population was estimated to be declining at a rate of >25% over three generations, thus approaching the threshold for Vulnerable (>30%) under Criterion A. Hence, the species is currently listed as Near Threatened under Criterion A2bce+3bce+4bce (past, future and present declines).

In late 2019, all 28 EU Member States were obliged to complete their second 6-yearly report to the European Commission (EC) under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive, including their latest information on the sizes and trends of the populations and ranges of all naturally occurring wild bird species. Under an EC contract to evaluate the EU population status of each species, BirdLife has now analysed these new data, which indicate that this species’s population is no longer declining. Indeed, it is now increasing in virtually every country within its range, at a rate that means that earlier declines (since 1980) have been more than overcome. Overall, the data indicate that the population has increased by more than 30% over the last decade, and by more than 80% over the last three generations (c. 32 years, based on an estimated generation length of 10.7 years; Bird et al. 2020). Germany (43%), France (8%) and Spain (7%) still hold significant populations, all of which are now stable or increasing; but the most significant changes have involved the burgeoning populations in the United Kingdom (16%), Sweden (11%) and Switzerland (9%), which together now hold more than one third of the total estimated global population of c. 35,000 pairs (A. Aebischer in litt. 2020). Many Red Kites are also now remaining on or near their breeding grounds in winter, rather than migrating south to Iberia, which partly explains the declining numbers recorded wintering in parts of Spain.

Like many other European birds, this species still faces threats in certain parts of its range, including agricultural intensification, deteriorating food availability, collisions, electrocution and poisoning (e.g. Sergio et al. 2019; Tavecchia et al. 2012; Tenan et al. 2012; Walker et al. 2019). Analyses of data from the German population show long-term declines in both juvenile and adult survival (Katzenberger et al. 2019). However, at the global population level, these factors are currently limiting its continued recovery and range expansion, rather than driving an overall decline.

As this species’s global population is no longer declining, but rather increasing rapidly, it therefore no longer approaches the threshold for listing under Criterion A, and should be reclassified from Near Threatened to Least Concern.

Relevant comments and information on this fast-track topic are welcome by 8 April 2020, please.

Please note that this forum topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, but rather a discussion of the species’s Red List status. Therefore, please ensure your comments are relevant to the species’s Red List status and the information requested. By submitting a comment, you confirm that you agree to the BirdLife Forums’ Comment Policy.


Bird, J.P., Martin, R., Akçakaya, H.R., Gilroy, J., Burfield, I.J., Garnett, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Şekercioğlu, Ç.H. & Butchart, S.H. (2020). Generation lengths of the world’s birds and their implications for extinction risk. Conservation Biology.

BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds: Red Kite Milvus milvus.

Katzenberger, J., Gottschalk, E., Balkenhol, N. and Waltert, M., 2019. Long-term decline of juvenile survival in German Red Kites. Journal of Ornithology 160: 337-349.

Sergio, F.; Tanferna, A.; Chicano, J.; Tavecchia, G.; J. Blas & Hiraldo, F. (2019) Protected areas under pressure: decline, redistribution, local eradication and projected extinction of a threatened predator in Doñana National Park. Endangered Species Research 38: 189-204.

Tavecchia; G., Adrover, J.; Muñoz Navarro, A.; Pradel R. (2012) Modelling mortality causes in longitudinal data in the presence of tag loss: application to raptor poisoning and electrocution. Journla of Applied Ecology 49: 297-305.

Tenan, S.; Adrover, J.; Muñoz Navarro, A.; Sergio, F.; Tavecchia, G. (2012). Demographic consequences of poison-related mortality in a threatened bird of prey. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49187.

Walker, L.A.; Jaffe, J.E.; Barnett, E.A; Chaplow, J.S.; Charman, S.; Giela, A.; Hunt, A.G.; Jones, A.; Pereira, M.G.; Potter, E.D.; Sainsbury, A.W.; Sleep, D.; Senior, C.; Sharp, E.A.; Vyas, D.S; Shore, R.F.. (2019) Anticoagulant rodenticides in red kites (Milvus milvus) in Britain in 2017 and 2018. Lancaster, NERC/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, 28pp. (CEH project no. C06940, C05191).

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10 Responses to Archived 2020 topic: Red Kite (Milvus milvus) – reclassify from Near Threatened to Least Concern

  1. The proposed change seems reasonable from a EU perspective – however, for Germany the current information do not support such a positive outlook and this should be made clear as it still concerns the major part of the EU red kite population.

    In fact, the positive population development in Germany is largely restricted to some areas in southern and western Germany, while the populations in other parts are still declining or stable (Fig. 8-9, Grüneberg and Karthäuser 2019).

    Also, only the breeding population size of the red kite in Germany seems similar to the 1980s. This overlooks probable long-term changes in the non-breeding population. If the effects of declining vital rates and likely density-dependent buffering are considered, a model framework suggests that the total population size of the red kite in Germany is on average nearly 50% lower than in the 1980s (Fig. 5, Katzenberger and Gottschalk 2019; Katzenberger et al in prep).

    Overwintering on the breeding grounds is also not a common phenomenon in Germany. With usually around 1000 individuals counted in early January (Karthäuser et al. 2019), this applies to less than 4% of the breeding population. As we know from tracking data, most of the German breeding population still winters in Iberia.

    Recent analyses suggest that in Spain poisoning and persecution still pose a considerable threat to the species – both for breeding and wintering individuals (Luque-Larena et al. 2018; Balmori 2019). This should however be assessed by regional experts.

    Altogether, Germany and Spain still seem to be crucial for assessing the conservation status of the species in Europe, but in both countries the current and future situation seems less optimistic than presented here.


    Balmori A (2019) Endangered bird mortality by gunshots: still a current problem. Biodivers Conserv 28:2555–2564. doi: 10.1007/s10531-019-01778-9

    Grüneberg C, Karthäuser J (2019) Verbreitung und Bestand des Rotmilans Milvus milvus in Deutschland – Ergebnisse der bundesweiten Kartierung 2010-2014. Vogelwelt 139:101–116 []

    Karthäuser J, König C, Wahl J (2019) Wie viele Rotmilane überwintern in Deutschland? Der Falke 66:18–19 []

    Katzenberger J, Gottschalk E (2019) Abhängigkeit des Erstbrutalters von der Populationsdichte: Eine Integration in Populationsmodelle für den Rotmilan Milvus milvus. Vogelwelt 139:171–180 []

    Luque-Larena JJ, Mougeot F, Arroyo B, Lambin X (2018) “ Got rats ?” Global environmental costs of thirst for milk include acute biodiversity impacts linked to dairy feed production. Glob Chang Biol 1–3. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14170

  2. Nicolás López Jiménez says:

    Strongly agree with Jakob Katzenberger.
    Furthermore, the threats to red kite in Spain are still present, especially worrying is the mortality caused by poisoning.
    It must be remembered that at a national level it is included in the Spanish Catalog of Endangered Species in the category of Endangered of Extinction and classified in the Red Book of Birds of Spain as Endangered (EN A2ab + 4ab; Madroño & al., 2004).
    In the last census carried out in Spain in 2014 (Molina, 2015), there is a slight recovery of the wintering population. But as for the breeding population, it should be noted that it has not recovered from the serious decline in recent years and that its population in 2014 remains stable with respect to the previous 2004 census (Cardiel, 2006), that is, it has not increased in 10 years. Finally, in the chapter (Molina, 2015) dedicated to evaluating the conservation status of the species, an assessment of the IUCN category is made at the level of Spain and it is recommended that it should continue to be Endangered (EN) in Spain.
    The decline in 20 years would be 31%, from the first census in 1994.
    The decrease in the area of ​​occupation continues and could be 40% in three decades.
    On the other hand, the causes that caused the strong regression of this species persist (poison, direct persecution, poisonings,
    habitat loss, electrocution and agricultural intensification). Poison has been the first conservation problem of the kite in the last 20 years and continues to be so today
    (Brochet & al., 2016).

    In my opinion as SEO/BirdLife’s Species Conservation Program Officer, red kite should have a conservation status at least as Near Threatened, but not LC.

    Brochet, A.L., & al., 2016. Preliminary assessment of the scope and
    scale of illegal killing and taking of birds in the Mediterranean. Bird Conservation International, 26:1-28.

    Cardiel, I. E. 2006. El milano real en España. II Censo Nacional (2004). SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.

    Madroño, A., C. González & J.C. Atienza. (Eds.) 2004. Libro rojo de las aves de España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad-SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.

    Molina, B. (Ed.) 2015. El milano real en España. III Censo Nacional. Población invernante y reproductora en 2014 y método de censo. SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.

  3. Peter Knaus says:

    The following information is part of the “Swiss Breeding Bird Atlas 2013–2016” (Knaus et al. 2018), the full version is available as PDF under “The Red Kite has continued to expand its range in Switzerland over the past decades. Since 1993–1996, it has penetrated the larger Alpine valleys and begun exploiting hunting grounds well into the Alpine zone. Today, Geneva and Ticino are the only cantons where it does not breed. The first breeding record in Grisons dates from 2008. Since then, the Red Kite has spread rapidly in that area, breeding for the first time in Davos at 1550 m a.s.l. in 2014. In Valais, breeding was first recorded in 2012. The expansion coincided with an increase in population density at altitudes of 400 to 900 m. Remarkable densities are found in these areas today: In an area of 350 km2 extending from Sensebezirk FR to Schwarzenburg BE, 124 pairs were recorded in 2017; in one square with a surface area of 6.25 km2, as many as 11 broods were counted. The fragmented landscape in Switzerland is well-suited to the species’ needs, the population size is estimated at 2800–3500 pairs. The Red Kite benefits from frequent mowing as well as from feeding and food sources in settlements. The wintering population has grown to more than 3000 individuals (A. Aebischer) and consists predominantly of adult birds, whose survival rates are probably higher when they winter in the breeding range rather than migrating.”

  4. Claudio Celada says:

    Leaving this comment also on behalf of Marco Gustin

    The estimated Italian population is 850-1025 adult individuals (425-515 pairs). Trend is increasing in the following regions: Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata. In Tuscany and Marche reintroduction projects have been successful (Brichetti & Fracasso 2018), but the species is almost extinct in Sicily (Ientile & Massa 2008, Sarà com. pers.). In the coming Italian Red list the species will be confirmed as Vulnerable (VU) because of reduced population size and presence of multiple threats (poisoning, lead poisoning, pesticides, wind farms, electrocution, elimination of waste dumps). Italian population is only 1-2% of EU population. Considering that the species is a SPEC 1 and it is declining in the most important countries we support the near threatened status (NT)

  5. The change of category proposed by BirdLife seems consistent at the European level. Nevertheless, and in line with the comments made by previous colleagues, it seems important to consider also the situation in France.
    Red Kite is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN national red list (2016) and a new 10-year National Action Plan was launched in 2018. After a 20 % decline between 2002 and 2008 the breeding population now appears to be stable or even increasing locally (a national survey of the breeding population is currently underway (2019-2021)).
    Furthermore, due to the lack of sufficient old data, it is not possible today to know whether the species has recovered its former numbers. However, if the species is tending to extend its range, it has not yet recovered its reference range (atlas of the breeding birds of France (1985-1989)).
    Like in Spain, threats on Red Kite remain important or are increasing in France especially illegal poisoning and collision with windfarms. The very significant development of wind energy is an additional threat which consequences on the evolution of the French and European populations are not yet assessed. In 2019, at least 18 Red kites were found dead in France because of collision with wind farms among them, 10 in the department of Cantal.
    France hosts a large and increasing wintering population (among which many red kites from other European countries) and is overflown by thousands of migrating kites. In 2019, for example, 18 Red kites fitted with GPS loggers in others European countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria…) have been found dead in France.
    For these reasons, is it relevant to consider the current trend of Red Kite as sustainable? Could the issue of human-induced mortality (especially in France but not only) not lead European experts to recommend maintaining the Red Kite in the category “Near Threatened”?

    • BERNARDIN Catherine says:

      Réseau Avifaune de l’Office National des Forêts (France) – Groupe Milan royal (Milvus milvus)
      Avis relatif au projet de modification du statut mondial de l’espèce

      L’espèce semble mieux se porter en France qu’il y a une trentaine d’années, c’est indiscutable. On observe des reconquêtes de territoires, et même l’installation de couples nicheurs dans des secteurs nouveaux. La tendance est identique à l’échelle européenne, avec toutefois des variations selon les pays.

      Pour mémoire, la population française de Milan royal a connu une forte hausse dans les années 1950-1970, mais la génération précédente en voyait peu. Ces fluctuations sont inexpliquées, et ne peuvent pas relever (pas uniquement en tout cas) des évolutions de l’agriculture intensive.

      De nombreuses menaces pèsent toujours sur cette espèce, en particulier les empoisonnements, le plus souvent par des substances illicites mais toujours utilisées, et le développement des parcs éoliens, qui va certainement augmenter rapidement dans les années à venir dans toute l’Europe.

      La préservation des sites de nidification est aujourd’hui bien prise en compte en France, grâce aux efforts de formation déployés par les associations nationales et locales de protection de la nature, et les gestionnaires de la forêt, tant publique que privée.
      La communication auprès des agriculteurs et du grand public a aussi permis d’améliorer la connaissance de ce rapace.

      Il ne faudrait pas que ces efforts soient anéantis suite à un relâchement de la vigilance de tous les acteurs concernés. Nous ignorons en effet si la tendance à l’amélioration du niveau de population de l’espèce est durable ou non.
      Par conséquent, nous ne nous opposons pas au « déclassement » de l’espèce à l’échelle mondiale de NT à LC, mais nous demandons que son statut reste inchangé en France (VU), où les effectifs augmentent, mais lentement.

  6. Hany Alonso says:

    The decision of reclassification of the red kite from Near Threatened to Least Concern seems to be logic considering both the information provided and the level of assessment (EU). However, we strongly disagree with some of the information/justification provided:

    1) “Indeed, it is now increasing in virtually every country within its range, at a rate that means that earlier declines (since 1980) have been more than overcome.”

    For sure that is not the current situation of the species in Portugal (unknown population trend; decreasing distribution trend), according to the Article 12 Birds Directive report. Moreover, it should be noted that the national breeding population decreased very significantly from 1960 until 1980 (Cabral et al. 2005). Although the current trend is unknown, the distribution of the species has been decreasing significantly since 1980, and heavily in the last 13 years (about 50%), also according to the information recently provided to EU. Furthermore, after reading my colleagues comments (from countries with much more important breeding numbers), I do have the impression that the above statement is excessive.

    2) “Like many other European birds, this species still faces threats in certain parts of its range, including agricultural intensification, deteriorating food availability, collisions, electrocution and poisoning (…) at the global population level, these factors are currently limiting its continued recovery and range expansion, rather than driving an overall decline.”

    In agreement with what has been reported by other colleagues, most of the more significant threats (namely poisoning, collision and electrocution with powerlines and agricultural intensification), does not seem to have disappeared or decreased in Portugal (e.g., Sousa 2017); quite the opposite, as agriculture intensification has been expanding (Morgado et al. 2020) in an important range of the species distribution.

    Kind regards

    Hany Alonso
    SPEA (Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds) – Birdlife partner

    Cabral MJ, Raposo de Almeida P, Almeida J et al. (2005) Livro Vermelho dos Vertebrados de Portugal. Instituto da Conservação da Natureza, Lisboa, Portugal.

    Sousa J (2017) Eletrocussão de aves em apoios da rede elétrica e métodos de correção Mestrado em Biologia da Conservação. FCUL, Universidade de Lisboa.

    Morgado, R., Santana, J., Porto, M., Sánchez-Oliver, J. S., Reino, L., Herrera, J. M., Rego, F., Beja, P. & Moreira, F. (2020). A Mediterranean silent spring? The effects of olive farming intensification on breeding bird communities. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 288, 106694.

  7. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    The following comment is posted on behalf of Jula Selmani (National Agency of Protected Areas, Albania):

    Red Kite, it is very rarely observed in Albania during the migration season. Observations of this species are erratically reported year to year. Therefore, we would consider also this species to exclude from evaluation for the national RedList of Albania.

  8. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion over the past 10 days. We realise that the window for consultation was short (and is now closed), and greatly appreciate the time and effort invested by so many people in commenting, especially during this unprecedented time globally. The volume and variety of responses received on this (and other) species means that it will take us several more days to digest, analyse and interpret everything. We will however do so as quickly as possible, posting our considered conclusions on this species’s status on this page in a final contribution by mid-April.

    Thank you once again, and Happy Easter.

    BirdLife Red List Team

  9. Red List Team (BirdLife International) says:

    Following careful review and consideration of the existing available information, as well as the new information and valuable views shared through the consultation above, we have now reached a decision on the status of this species for both the 2020 global Red List and the EU Red List of birds. Our conclusion is that this species should be classified as Least Concern – representing a reclassification from its current status of Near Threatened, to reflect its ongoing recovery.

    In making this decision, we acknowledge the concerns raised by several respondents regarding the persistence of existing threats and the emergence of novel threats in some countries. Where these issues exist, we agree that they should continue to be reflected in National Red Lists as appropriate and addressed as priorities where needed – especially given this species’s listing on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive and numerous other multilateral environmental agreements. We will ensure that relevant threats are also mentioned in the global Red List assessment, noting the species’s chequered conservation history and the need for sustained efforts to assure its long-term recovery.

    Many thanks once again to everyone who contributed to the discussion above and helped to inform this outcome. The 2020 Red List update for birds including this assessment will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December.

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