When I was growing up in the 70’s we had a small cottage in the valleys of mid Wales. Stick a pin in the most empty part of Wales you can find — it was there. The nearest villages, six miles or so away, were called Ysbyty Ystwyth and Pontrhydfendigaid. That’s how Welsh it was. And the local farmer only spoke Welsh — no English.
In our valley there was a pair of nesting Red Kites. We were told they were so rare it was secret and we shouldn’t tell anyone. I think I remember being told there was only a dozen nesting pairs in the UK at the time. They were extinct in England.
Move forward 40 years. Here’s a picture above the parkland around my house at the tip of the Chiltern Hills in Hertfordshire, that I took yesterday. OK this is the world’s most boring picture but there’s actually 12 Red Kites in this picture. Earlier that day I counted 16 birds in the sky above me.
Twenty years ago there were no Red Kites here. Each year the population grows, and now you can see the birds all over the Chiltern hills. It’s quite common to see them driving down the M4 to Reading.
What I don’t really understand is what they eat. They are meant to be carrion eaters, so I assumed mice and similar small mammals. But there’s no way there’s that many mice in the fields to keep this population. And you almost never see them land, they seem to spend their time in the air.
They get mobbed by crows — even individual crows take on these birds despite being three times larger than the crows. The Kites need to learn how to defend themselves — and they’d have a load more food.
We used to have a lot of rabbits around. Now we don’t. Maybe this is why.
It’s great to see large raptor birds in the UK like this, and it’s rare to have a successful wildlife story, but the re-introduction of the Red Kites in the UK has been an amazing success.
P.S. I found this amazing video of Red Kites in slow motion.