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   Inside Out - South: Monday February 14, 2005

RED KITES
By Chris Packham

Red Kite
Dig out the binoculars for a closer look at the Red Kite

I believe the best things in life are birds. But then I have to say that whilst all birds are equal, some birds are more equal than others!

And the Red Kite is one of the latter.

At rest they are a little unusual, a bit of a pointy face on a head that is a little too small.

Their colouration is a bit of a messy mix-mash of russets, browns, blacks and creams - and to be honest they are not exactly dashing ferocious predators.

For much of their time they scavenge their food or waddle around on the ground eating worms.

So quite what is it that makes them so much more equal than other birds?

Aerial acrobatics

Red Kite in flight
The Red Kite is very distinctive in flight

It's simple, watch a Red Kite fly for a minute and all will be revealed.

They soar, swoop and scud across the sky being steered by their great big red rudder of a tail and there is something undeniably special about their aerial characteristics.

Until recently their appeal was embellished by rarity as these once widespread birds were hounded by gamekeepers to the brink of extinction, surviving in only one remote area of central Wales.

I once spent two weeks there in a cold damp caravan getting up before light to guard their precious nests from egg-collectors.

I never dared to dream that I'd live to see these birds aloft over the South of England, let alone from my own garden.

Red Kites - The Facts

The red kite has a wing span or approximately two metres, or about five-and-a-half feet.

The average weight for a red kite is between two to three pounds (lbs).

The Red Kite is a predator and feeds on earthworms, small mammals, amphibians and birds.

There are only around 23,000 breeding pairs left in the world. Most of these are in Europe.

Source: Red Kite!

But yes, Red Kite is on my garden list!

All thanks to a remarkable conservation initiative which has seen young birds from Spain and Scandinavia released in several sites across the UK.

Late summer flights

There have been precious few hiccups, a few unfortunate shootings and poisonings, but the whole project can only be described as one of the most dramatic wildlife recovery programmes ever realized.

Red Kites in my garden! Wow! (Well, not actually in my garden but at least flying over it).

And what is even better, is that you can go and see these birds.

Visit Ibstone and Christmas Commons, south off junction five on the M40. There are now so many birds in this area that you are sure to see a few milling about.

If not cross over the motorway and try the lanes and fields north of Stokenchurch around Radnage.

Obviously in the breeding season a percentage of the birds are attending their nests so the end of the summer with all of those young from the breeding season sees peak numbers of Kites in the air.

That's what you want for one of the best flying displays anywhere on earth!

Beg, borrow or steal a pair of binoculars and go and get some great views of these fantastic birds.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
A birder's heaven
Montagu's harrier

On bbc.co.uk
Birds
Red Kite

On the rest of the web
Red Kite

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