If you haven’t seen a red kite, Milvus milvus, hopefully you will soon. They are truly magnificent birds and are a remarkable success story in the annals of UK wildlife conservation. Several stages of reintroduction of Swedish and Spanish birds into northern Scotland and the Chilterns in 1989 were followed by subsequent reintroductions into other release sites in the East Midlands, Derwent Valley, Yorkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, central Scotland, Aberdeen and Ulster. The later reintroductions have used chicks from UK breeding pairs which is, I think, a good indication of the success of the longer term success of the original program.
The latest numbers I have heard for our UK population is 1700 breeding pairs, and growing. The reason I’m writing about red kites now is because 3 weeks ago I had an email from a colleague to tell me to look out the window because a red kite was flying past! I only saw the email an hour after the event so I missed that one, but another appeared a week later which I did see.
And then on Saturday as I was wandering along the road I live on, this magnificent creature was slowly quatering the gardens looking for worms, small mammals, or carrion:
The red plumage of the underside of the red kite is clearly visible. The pale patches on this one suggest it’s a juvenile
And red kites are big birds, they have a wingspan of 185cm. They weigh between 2 and 3 pounds (1 and 1.3kg), so for such a big bird they’re not heavy and are consequently not particularly strong. They feed primarily on carrion but they are unable to open the carcasses of bigger animals such as sheep so they rely on other carrion feeders such as corvids (crows) to do the initial butchering before they can feed. They don’t take live prey bigger than small mammals such as mice or voles or bird chicks, so don’t be concerned about your cat… or your children!
Whilst cycling into work yesterday morning (25th July) along the cycle path beside our new guided busway a red kite was quartering a field adjacent to that, so with 4 sightings in the last 3 weeks within a 2 mile radius, I think a juvenile may have moved into the area and is finding sufficient food to keep it here. I hope so.
Red kites are often wing tagged on the leading edges of both wings, on the left the tag reveals the location of the birds origin and on the right the year it hatched. The tags are big enough to be seen from a distance with binoculars or a scope and each location and year have a different colour. If you see a tagged bird and you want to discover its origin take a look here at RedKite.net where the tag colours are decoded.
I’ll hopefully be able to report again soon on local red kites.