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Red kite

Last updated: 21 February 2011

It's hard to believe now but these iconic and hugely popular birds were once almost extinct in Wales and the UK.

Efforts to protect red kites from extinction started over 100 years ago in Wales, making it the longest-running conservation project in history.

Two local men helped save the red kite from almost certain extinction. In Brecon, E. Cambridge Philips lobbied landowners and organised the payment of bounties as a means of protecting nests in the 1880s and 1890s, but his efforts were ultimately ineffective.

As towns and cities became more hygienic - carrion was harder to come by and game preserves no longer welcomed birds of prey which were regularly shot and poisoned.

A few years later Dr. J. H. Salter, Professor of Botany at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth persuaded the British Ornithologists Club to set up a 'Kite Committee' to organise the protection of the few remaining kites, in the upper Tywi Valley.

The RSPB got involved two years later in 1905 but progress was slow and even in the 1930's there were as few as 20 birds in Wales but gradually the kite populations recovered.

There are now several red kite populations in Britain, but only the Welsh birds are truly native.

In the late 1980s and 1990s kites from Sweden and Spain were introduced to various sites in England and Scotland and are now breeding successfully.

Kites are also being exported from Wales over to Ireland as part of a reintroduction programme and kites can now be seen for the first time in 200 years over Co Wicklow.

The aim is for 120 birds to be released over five years providing a nice Celtic link to the story.

According to the Welsh Red Kite Trust (December 2010), there are now over 1,000 breeding pairs of red kite pairs in Wales and they're gradually moving further south and becoming much more common in Pembrokeshire and Gower.

Red kites have a chestnut-red body and a long, red, forked tail. In flight you can see white patches on the underside of the wings.

Red kites are not your typical bird of prey and prefer to scavenge their food so will often be seen soaring high in the sky, like vultures on the look out for dead animals to feed on. They will however also feed on worms and small mammals.

Look out for red kites around areas of deciduous woodland next to farmland or grassland and along the coast. A great place to see them is on the coastal road up to Aberystwyth or through the Brecon Beacons.

Numbers are increasing throughout Wales, and feeding stations which have opened in Mid Wales are very proving popular with tourists and birds alike as you'll get to see 100's of birds in the air, putting on dramatic aerial displays as they fight for scraps of meat.

Red kites will travel huge distances in search of a meal and some of the kites at Gigrin feeding centre have even flown down from as far afield as Scotland.


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