The Red Kite - a Great British Success Story

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Oct 23, 2014 by British Blog

The red kite (latin name Milvus mulvus) is a bird of prey that is related to eagles, buzzards and harriers. Although historically the UK had a large population of red kites, for many centuries they were regarded as a pest and were eventually hunted to near extinction. By the early twentieth century, just a few pairs remained, all in South Wales.

From 1903 onwards, worried conservationists began to take action to save the red kite, and in 1905 the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) became involved. During the 1950s and 60s a programme of nest protection did reduce the number of egg thefts, giving the native population a chance to recover.

 

Reintroduction

However, the kites in Wales were not prolific breeders and by the 1980s the red kite was still threatened. Realising that something had to be done, the RSPB and other organisations decided to begin a programme of re-introducing the red kite to the UK.

In 1989, four red kites from Sweden were released in the north of Scotland; at the same time, four Swedish and one Welsh bird were released in Buckinghamshire. Between 1989 and 1994, a total of 93 red kites were released into the two sites.

Both sites saw their first successful breeding in 1992, and since then kites have thrived and spread outwards from both locations. In addition, further birds, including offspring from the newly-established British kite population) were released into other sites throughout the UK.

In January 2006, newspapers reported the first sighting of a red kite in London for 150 years.

 

Thriving

Now, the red kite is firmly re-established in the UK and can be seen on a daily basis in many parts of the country. Red kites are imposing and impressive birds, around 70cm long with a wingspan of approximately 180cm. They have a distinctive 'anchor' shape and forked tail, and can be seen soaring and diving in the sky. The red kites based in Britain do not migrate, so they can be seen and admired all year round, and breeding pairs tend to stay together for life.

Red kites pose no danger to farm livestock, feeding mainly on carrion, small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews, earthworms and sometimes other wild birds and frogs. As a result, red kites are appreciated by their human neighbours and there is no longer any need to hunt them. However, they do, sadly, fall victim sometimes to poisoned bait left out for rats and other vermin. Furthermore, egg thieves and other 'collectors' remain a threat to birds throughout the UK so there is no room for complacency.

That said, the now thriving red kite is clearly a British success story, and has inspired similar programmes in other places. Those places include Ireland, which has undertaken its own programme of red kite re-introduction. As red kite numbers continue to climb, hopefully Britain can look forward to many centuries more of being home to this stunning, magnificent bird.