The Red Kite extinct in England since 1765 now back on top.

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The RSPB is celebrating the “remarkable” comeback of the Red Kite, a bird which had almost become extinct in Britain. For more than 400 years the bird of prey was killed as vermin and by the 1960s there were just 20 pairs.  But the organisation’s 2011 Big Garden Birdwatch survey recorded as many as 2,000 breeding pairs, an increase of over 130% since last year. Its return began in the 1990s with re-introductions in several areas. At the turn of the 20th century it was extinct in England and Scotland with just a handful of breeding pairs in the Welsh valleys.

The Welsh birds began to expand slowly in the 1980s with legal protection, reduced persecution and efforts of conservationists, but remained very vulnerable.

Elegant birds

A series of reintroductions began across Britain in 1990, including the Black Isle in Scotland and the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire.

Now, the bird has moved to number 53 in the rankings of most frequently seen birds in gardens following the public survey.

Only the Red Kites that landed in gardens were officially recorded, but the RSPB said there were numerous comments on survey forms and online forums suggesting more were seen flying over gardens.

Jeff Knott, from the RSPB, said the increase was good news for both the public and the birds: “Red kites are one of our most elegant birds of prey and they are a spectacular sight. I defy anyone that gets to see them flying over their garden not to be in awe of them.

“They were once almost completely eradicated from the UK and thanks to the work of organisations like the RSPB and its partners, and local people that have grown to love these birds.

“They are the subject of a remarkable success story which we hope will long continue.”

RSPB in appeal to farmers over kite poisoning

The RSPB wants farmers to reduce dependence on rodenticides to help prevent red kite deaths

Farmers and land managers are being urged to stop using large quantities of rat poison in the summer in a bid to prevent red kite deaths.

The call by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) came as it revealed 11 red kite chicks were poisoned by rodenticides last summer in Scotland. The birds were discovered dead or dying in four nests on the Black Isle and in Easter Ross. This represented more than 10% of red kite chicks produced in the whole area. [singlepic id=172 w=450 h=340 float=right]

Brian Etheridge, RSPB red kite officer for North Scotland, who has monitored the situation over the past 15 years, said the deaths were “devastating”. He appealed for farmers to prevent explosions in rat numbers so they would not need to use large quantities of poison and put kites and other species, including barn owls and wild cats, at risk.

‘Painful death’

He said: “We are very anxious to prevent a repetition of what happened last year. Red kites are beginning to pair up and select nest sites. Soon they will be laying and the chicks will be hatching.

“Rodenticide poisoning is a particularly painful way for any animal to die. Most rodenticides contain anticoagulants, which gather in the liver of an animal causing heavy internal bleeding.”

They are so powerful that anything feeding on a dead rat’s carcass is also affected”


It also recommends that farmers who regularly see kites foraging around their fields and farm buildings be particularly cautious when using rodenticides, particularly in the summer months.

Mr Etheridge said: “We realise that rats and mice need to be controlled, but the main thing is to try to prevent a situation developing where farmers and landowners have to use rodenticides in great quantities. Then you end up with dead rats lying everywhere.”

He also called on farmers to reduce their dependence on rodenticides by using rat traps throughout the year, and only use rodenticides in smaller quantities inside buildings, like barns and sheds, rather than in the countryside.

He added: “We would also like manufacturers to come up with less potent rodenticides because they are so powerful that anything feeding on a dead rat’s carcass is also affected.”

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14 comments to The Red Kite extinct in England since 1765 now back on top.

  • Mike Price

    I wish it was possible to see how they have dispersed, it would be very interesting to see which area’s that surround the reintroductions the birds have failed to prosper in.

    • Skydancer

      The winter dispersal of the Kites released in the Grizedale Forest last August has been very interesting. Nearly all the birds which managed to survive the winter have exited Grizedale and have now moved into more open areas with mixed woodlands in the west of Cumbria.

      I think it was John Miles that said Grizedale was totally the wrong release choice from the very beginning.

      I agree with John, what was Natural England and the Forestry Commission thinking of I wonder, publicity perhaps?

      The Eden Valley, offering better habitat and an abundance of rabbits, would certainly have been a more sensible and appropriate release location for this species.

  • paul williams

    Natural England is administrated from behind a desk in an office, why did they not consult the experts on birds of prey that work in the field and know the best habitat for Red Kites in Cumbria. Why is a raptor group, which no longer exists due to a lack of support, still listed as a member of the Red Kite advisory panel? It was just another publicity stunt from an office.

  • DEAN

    I’m hard pushed to think of a more successful conservation/reintroduction programme in the UK than this one.The fact that it’s a raptor species which has so benefitted just makes it all the sweeter.It’s an immense credit to all the organisations and individuals who have made it possible.More of the same please.

  • Fellwalker

    I think it is to soon to say wether it is a suitable location/habitat at this stage, Lets wait and see till they reach maturity and see if they breed in the released area? Out of the 90 birds which will be released over a three year period, what percentage would be acceptable to say it is a suitable?

  • nirofo

    The original re-introduction areas around the Black Isle, near Invernes in Scotland has not seen the success that introductions further south have experienced, their expansion into other suitable areas is very slow cosidering how well they are doing in other parts of the country. Although there is much suitable habitat with plenty of food available, the continued persecution in these areas, in particular, the indescriminate poisoning via baits laced with various banned substances is reducing the numbers of birds that could naturally expand into new territories!

    Legal rodenticides put down for rats and mice around farm buildings are also taking their toll. Until these illegal poisoning offences are nipped in the bud and the farmers etc, using legal rodenticides are taught how to use it “safely” for wildlife, then the expansion of Red Kite into the far north of Scotland will continue to be extremely slow or nil.


  • John Miles

    Yes Dean but when politics take over then you have to ask the question what the hell is going on! Ian Carter, Natural England said that Red Kite would never be released in the Lake District due to the high rain fall in that location. The East Anglian White tailed Sea Eagle project had most of its money from ‘Anglian water’. Would the scheme have ever been thought of it was not for this money I wonder!! White tailed Eagles in Essex at the battle of Mold AD 901!! As far as any one knows Cumbria raptor Group has been reduced to a “one man band” now who knows nothing about the ecology of Red Kites!!

    The last place Red Kites nested in Cumbria historically was the Eden Valley where there are many FC woods. Why should the Lake District get all the tourist money when other parts of Cumbria are completely ignored by Cumbria Tourism!! Given that most of these Kites have moved away from Grizedale should Raptor Politics be pressing the authorities to have the next release away from Grizedale?

  • DEAN

    Morning John,
    I think I was trying to look at the whole picture rather than at the Lakes alone.As you will be aware the RSPB and others are attacked ceaselessly on this site and I feel that credit should be given where it is due.With regard to the Lakes release site I’m not sure how important the release location is.The birds could always,move elsewhere if the location didn’t suit them,taking the tourist pound with them!
    If associations or companies wish to financially support a reintroduction programme the I think conservation groups would be crazy not to look at the project to see if it can be made to work.The worst case scenario with respect to the Lakeland Kites is that you’re likely to end up with a thriving population but perhaps not around the original release site.Still a pretty good outcome wouldn’t you agree?

  • Don’t suppose it matters where the birds are released provided there is suitable habitat within a not too long dispersal distance. They’ll find the best habitat in due course. A safe/undisturbed release site is inmportant though.
    Just hope that over the next two years some of those kites (or their offspring) start breeding to the south of Cumbria!



  • Dave

    I agree with Dean & David. I think most folk would love to have kites breeding near where they live including myself, but the prime aim must be to spread the releases as widely & evenly as possible. I don’t know Grizedale well but it doesn’t appear to be great kite habitat, however nearby looks very suitable. The Eden Valley mentioned above is now in the centre of a triangle of releases so if its as good as suggested it could be soon colonized! Look how quick the Yorkshire birds were to establish themselves in the Wolds as well as the area around their release. Grizedale a bit further from grouse moors too! The WTE’s were released on Rum but never did much on that island in terms of breeding but spread into neighbouring areas & are now breeding virtually half way to the Solway from their initial release site. I would like to reiterate the comments above thanking all the organisations & individuals for the red kite reintroduction & especially to the very few who had the vision for the scheme in the first place & who now have the vision to re-establish WTE not only in the north but in southern Britain too.

  • John Miles

    Many examples of Red Kite release show they are limited to move outside the released area. Yes the wolds is one example where they have managed to start on their own but as ROY Dennis has pointed out it is much better to release the birds in small numbers in the right location rather than mass in the wrong. As for the money how many members do you loose if many people do not want a release in their area!

  • Dave

    I’m just so pleased they are trying to established new colonies & hope one day they will breed in my area. Interesting John that you quote Roy Dennis, a man who is passionate to reitroduce WTE’s to East Anglia, some thing which you are so set against!

  • Ralph

    Good to see the Red Kite in the Thames Valley; in good numbers too!

  • Peter Dawson

    We live in the Chilterns where red kites are a daily life enhancing experience. At the moment our neighbourhood pairs are busy mostly out of sight bringing up their young in the wood next to us. Last year a pair were encouraging their single baby to take test flights from a cedar tree in our garden. Last winter we were anxious when they looked so sad perching in the snow covered branches of our big lime tree and I must admit we did feed them with the remains of chicken. We ate a lot of chicken last winter! Anyway they came through the bad weather unscathed and their numbers have slowly grown over recent years. But it took them several years to reach us from the original release site only about fisteen miles away. Suddenly there was one pair at the edge of the village and now several pairs are based here a few year later.

    There are a number of people routinely feeding them around nearby Princes Risborough, maybe illadvised now that numbers are so sustainable. I’m sure they will soon stop doing it. The landscape of this area seems perfect for red kites with our grassy low hills full of voles and juicy worms, capped by small woodlands apparently just what this species requires for success. Unwise to attempt introduction to unsuitable areas I agree. Peter