I think it would be fair to say that the Red Kite is one of the UK’s most stunning native birds of prey and, dramatically, only recently recovered from the brink of annihilation.
To set the scene, the Red Kite used to be a common sight in towns and cities all over the UK until the Government deemed it ‘vermin’ in the 16th Century. Open season was declared, permanently and towards the end of the 18th Century Red Kites were all but extinct across the UK apart from a handful of pairs in rural Mid Wales.
Since that time valiant efforts have been made by various individuals and organisations to revive the raptor’s dwindling population, until in the 1990’s a series of reintroductions began across Britain.
Now, in their 2011 Big Garden Birdwatch survey, the RSPB have reported that there are currently around 2,000 breeding pairs. That’s over a 130% increase in one year!
It’s a huge conservation achievement and yet there are those who are not so thrilled by the Red Kite’s revival. In the Chilterns area the raptor was reintroduced in the 1990’s and has gone from strength to strength ever since, but recent eyewitness reports in Watlington have suggested that the Kites are becoming increasingly aggressive, with accounts of the raptors sitting on prams and stealing food.
In 2010, thirty Red Kites were released in Grizedale Forest by the Forestry Commission and rangers think around twenty survived the winter, which would replicate natural survival patterns. Sadly however, one has been found shot dead, the second in a year, which has sparked an investigation involving both the police and the Forestry Commission.
Unfortunately, some people think that Red Kites will eat anything, but they are generally carrion feeders and almost certainly wouldn’t attack livestock. Like any animal though, if you encourage wild birds by feeding them they will keep coming back for more, which then earns them (rather unfairly) a bad name. Apart from anything else, human food isn’t good for raptors (or in many cases humans either) so it’s best to leave them to source their food naturally and just enjoy watching them in all their magnificent splendour, soaring about our British skies.