Feeding red kites: a view from the Chilterns

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.

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 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.

Iolo Williams sets out to track their breeding season


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