Tag Archives: reintroduction

An unusual but entertaining day at work

Earlier this week I was learning about a technique called ‘dynamic light scattering’ (DLS) which is used to determine the size of very small particles, even those as small as protein molecules. My teacher was a scientist called Ken who designs and builds DLS machines. It came up in conversation that he lives close to the southern end of the M40 corridor where I’ve seen lots of red kites and read stories of them stealing food from people, so I asked if he sees them in his neighbourhood.

Red kite (Milvus milvus, Dansk: rød glente), this one was at Hamerton in Cambridgeshire

Red kites are big, distinctive, birds of prey and they’re a conservation success story in the UK, having been almost driven to extinction but then reintroduced in the 1990’s since when their numbers have rocketed. And as it happens they are very common indeed in that part of the world and Ken kindly agreed to upload this video clip to You Tube so I could post a link to it here. This all happened in Ken’s garden and I think it’s highly entertaining stuff,  I think I’d struggle every morning to get out the front door to go to work if I had this kind of show going on in my garden!

Later on, at the end of the same day, a big flock of a few thousand starlings were murmurating over the Cambridge Science Park as I left work to come home. I was keeping one eye on the starlings and one eye on the road when I stopped at a red traffic light on the edge of the Science Park and the starlings were swirling and wheeling around the sky just in front of me. Then a sparrowhawk drifted by but the starlings carried on murmurating until the hawk suddenly accelerated up towards them. Then all of the flocks shrunk down into very tight groups and focussed on taking evasive action. It was a piece of natural theatre going on in the sky which was spectacular to watch. Then the traffic lights went green and I had to move on so I didn’t get to see the culmination of the chase, but it was a captivating end to the day.

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Milvus milvus

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.