Feeding red kites: a view from the Chilterns

Friday 7 June 2013, 11:34

Springwatch Guest Blog Springwatch Guest Blog

Guest blogger: Cathy Rose, Chilterns Conservation Board

Red kites are now a familiar sight over the Chilterns, with many residents, including myself, gaining great pleasure from seeing them. 

As the Springwatch films reveal, seeing red kites close-up, in a garden, is spectacular and many people in the Chilterns love seeing them at such close quarters. A lot of locals put food out in their gardens to encourage the birds to get closer.

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Stunning super slow motion red kites in flight

However, the large numbers of kites over our villages and their bold behaviour is now dividing local opinion on the birds. Some people complain of kites stealing food from picnics and barbeques, scaring their pets, soiling their cars and washing on lines with droppings, and worry that raw meat being dropped in gardens will lead to an increase in rats.

Red Kite Red Kite copyright Diane Seddon/LRPS

So, can anything be done? Well, I believe that red kites are clustering over our villages and swooping into gardens because they're accustomed to being fed and now view gardens as an easy source of food. Remove that food source and they'll realise there's nothing for them and search elsewhere.

Neighbourly disputes aside, there are conservation concerns too. The re-introduction of red kites to the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been an incredible success, but it's important that the increasing population is sustained by the natural food in the wild; mainly carrion with some live prey including rats, mice and voles (while they occasionally take other birds there's no evidence that kites are responsible for any declines in garden or farmland birds).

There's plenty of natural food in the Chilterns to sustain a healthy population of red kites, so supplementary feeding here isn't necessary and may even discourage them from spreading out and finding their food naturally. This could ultimately lead to an unsustainably high population of red kites, reliant on human hand-outs. 

Although feeding red kites isn't illegal, I hope that people who currently do so in the Chilterns will take heed of these concerns, and consider stopping or at least reducing their feeding.

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Iolo Williams sets out to track their breeding season

More about red kites in the Chilterns AONB.


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    Comment number 1.

    I live in Tilehurst, just west of Reading, and we're really lucky to see Red Kites circling in the sky every day, sometimes up to 9 or 10 at a time. Their calls are as common as the blackbirds' songs here - I've even heard a jay mimicking them! I think maybe some people around our estate do put food out for them as they do seem to focus over certain gardens... You can't have it both ways though, if you feed them from your garden you have to accept the obvious consequences. These are intelligent, opportunistic creatures; so when they zoom in and nick your sausages off the BBQ or scare little kids outside eating their packed lunch, guess who's to blame? (clue: not the bird - they are doing what you've taught them to, behaviour that only extends their natural instincts to scavenge.) I'm worried that any rising animosity towards the Kites could result in some being harmed by people 'protecting themselves'. I love the Red Kites - its a huge pleasure and privilege to see them from my window every day, I never tire of them and I hope their breeding success continues. So I'd say please stop feeding the Kites in your gardens... they will still be around, maybe not in such big groups, maybe further out in the countryside... but lets keep them just a little bit at arms length - for their own good, long-term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I live in Gazeley, Newmarket, Suffolk. On Thursday morning, whilst walking my dog, I was lucky enough to see what I believe to be a black kite flying overhead. It was quite low in the sky, huge wing span and forked tail. Wonder if anyone else has seen this bird in the Newmarket area.

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    Comment number 3.

    Red Kite seen yesterday (8/6/13) at Glyngaer, Gelligaer, Mid Glam. 1st time seen in this area (been resident for over 50 yrs), amazing sight, seen in the company of an irrate seagull. soon chased him off and continued to circle the area for approx 20 mins. WOW!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    We leave in Emmer Green north Reading and just witnessed a Red Kite take out a magpie in our back garden. Has anyone else ever witnessed this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Please, please, please, more feeding of baby birds by parents. I don't think I've quite got the idea of how to shove a caterpiller down a bird's throat. Yawwwwwwn....borrrrrring!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    One of the presenters mentioned tonight on Springwatch that habitats need to be managed...... We would all agree, but why have the RSpB and other so called conservation organisations not extrapolated this? I have seen kites take a Moorhen from the water, rook eggs and chicks from the nest and mob buzzards off their kill..... It is great that we have them back again, but if we accept that habitats must be managed surely we must understand that raptor and corvid numbers must be managed too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Red kites now a very common sight where I live in the Chilterns but we no longer see kestrels hovering by the road here. Would be interested to know whether there is a link.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I now have two bird nest boxes in my garden which have been inhabited by bees!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    When I was traveling to Yorkshire I saw a red kite hovering over us.My sister saw it and said "what's that". And I said it was a red kite.


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