Red kite

A red kite (Milvus milvus) was seen over the park on Sunday.

During the Middle Ages, red kites were protected by royal decree and killing a red kite was a crime sometimes punishable by death. By the 1600s, kites had become widespread; farmers and game-keepers accused them of killing their stock. They were labelled as vermin and a bounty placed on their heads.

By the middle of the 19th Century, still subject to a bounty, they had become so rare that they were hunted for taxidermy, and thieves stole their eggs to sell to collectors. By the 1870s, red kites were assumed to be entirely extinct in England and Scotland and at one point, in the 1930s, there was only one breeding pair left in Wales.

The Kite Committee had been formed in 1903 and had initiated a nest protection scheme, now the world’s longest running bird protection scheme, and the RSPB has been continuously involved since 1905. But, by the middle of the 20th Century, an attempt to reintroduce the species in the Chilterns had failed, and there were only a few breeding pairs left in Wales.

Red kites at Bellymack Farm by Walter Baxter (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provided legislation to protect animals, plants and habitats in the UK. At that time, the red kite was one of only three globally threatened species in the UK, and so it was a high priority for conservation efforts. The RSPB and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (now Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage), got together in 1986 to discuss the possibility of reintroducing the red kite to England and Scotland.

Re-introductions began in 1989 and were hugely successful. Populations have been established in both countries and there are now around 1600 breeding pairs across the UK. While most of the red kites you see today are the descendants of northern European birds, there is still a small population in Wales which are descended from that last breeding pair from the early 20th century.

Header picture: Red kite by Mike Prince (CC BY 2.0)

Another of the park’s visiting birds of prey:

4 thoughts on “Red kite

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  1. Red kites can be a mixed blessing. Around Henley on the Thames, people put out food for the kites and there are squadrons of them. I believe they are now a pest. Little birds are now rare in that area.

    1. I think they are largely carrion feeders. They do take live prey but most of it seems to be earthworms. All the experts say that if they take birds, it’s young gulls or pigeon squabs. I can imagine though that if there are a lot of birds of prey around, songbirds might well choose to go elsewhere.

  2. Here on the edge of fields behind Blind Lane, we often see buzzards but recently I startled a large dark brown hawk in a tree by the Lambrok and as it flew away the only distinguishing feature was a prominent white rump. Could this have been a female hen harrier? It definitely wasn’t a buzzard who often rest here hoping to catch the odd rat at this time of year.

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