September 2016 - Red Kites

Red Kites are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of all the raptors, and sightings of these birds are becoming increasingly common in our local vicinity. They are large birds of prey with wing spans of around five foot, with red wings tipped with black and a conspicuous reddish brown deeply forked tail. They have a characteristic 'mewing' call. They were once common scavenging birds in Britain, and in the fifteenth century were given special protection because they were responsible, among other scavenging birds, such as ravens, for keeping streets clean and preventing outbreaks of disease.  However, due to improvements in sanitation in urban areas, the red kites lost their food supply, and numbers dropped. In addition the rural communities blamed the birds for taking poultry and other livestock. In 1863 it is reported that only one pair of Red Kite bred in England, the eggs of which were highly prized by egg collectors, and the birds themselves by taxidermists. After that the birds all but disappeared except for a very occasional sighting of a single bird.

In the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s reintroduction was attempted in Wales and England, with little success. Then a further ambitious project began in 1989, continuing into the 1990s, and progress started to be made. During this time, Swedish, Spanish and German birds were taken as nestlings and released into Britain, providing them with food for the first few weeks of their lives here. Sites were carefully chosen, taking into consideration other local carrion feeding birds, such as Common Buzzards. Between 1989 and 2000 about 395 birds were released. In Norfolk there was no release programme but the recent increased sightings of these magnificent birds show how successful these initial reintroductions were.

I have seen several Red Kites over the Marlingford marshes this year, and indeed the photos shown are taken by Dominic Gwilliam-Bell over the local marshes last year. This year, Jenny Press confirmed she had seen them flying over the fields at the back of Bawburgh village hall.

Although largely carrion feeders they are also opportunists and will come down into gardens if food is put out. They will take rabbits, especially during times of illness in the local populations due to myxomatosis. The lifespan of these birds is around 4 years.

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