Every year we oversee the hatching of several progeny from a variety of the centre’s captive bred birds, those which are housed in our display aviaries and our simmer flying demonstrations.
If these youngsters are not retained by the sanctuary, they are exchanged with other breeding centres throughout the country in order to contribute to the national conservation programmes and help to retain healthy gene pools.
This year, they were thrilled to have successfully hand reared a Red Kite chick. Two eggs were taken from the nest of our established Red Kite group and, not unusually, one was not viable. The remaining chick, however, came on in leaps and bounds and in a matter of weeks a handsome bird is starting to emerge from the original fluffy blob!
Red Kites are slowly repopulating most areas of the British Isles again, having suffered a somewhat chequered history in the past. Although protected in medieval times due to their value as street cleaners and carrion eaters, these stunning birds were heavily persecuted in Tudor times - as Tudor streets became cobbled and relatively clean, kites had to look further afield for food and came to be perceived as unwanted competitors for game.
At this time they also acquired a reputation for stealing clothes left out to dry, to decorate their nests. In Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, launderesses are advised that “when the kite builds, look to your lesser linen”!
In 1560, red kites were added to a list of animals and birds classed as “vermin” and a bounty was posted on red kite carcasses. Numbers plummeted. Their unpopularity continued right through to the 19th. century, when they were considered a threat to pheasant stocks and new born lambs - in fact kites are not voracious killers, preferring to clean up dead meat and carrion.
It is only since the turn of the 20th. century that kite numbers have started to recover in the wild thanks to a number of re-introduction programmes throughout the British Isles. These began with the setting up of a Kite Committee in Wales in 1904, which paid a dividend to farmers protecting Red Kites nesting on their land. Slowly, the Welsh population started to recover, due in part to the remoteness of some of the inhabited landscape and by 1992 there were 79 nesting pairs. In the next eight years this figure rose to 250.
Once the Red Kite was well established again in Wales, it’s numbers slowly began to recover throughout the British Isles. Although unusual, it is now not a rare sight to see red kites soaring over the Chilterns and above the M40 and M4 beyond High Wycombe and Marlow , and even in the Suffolk skies, easily recognisable with their elegant motion and iconic forked tail.