As the cool autumn day slowly warms up the 2 Red kites on my local patch begin to hunt, twisting and turning on small gusts of wind as they search the ground for food. Every so often diving down with talons open ready to grab its prey, which this time turns out to be an earth worm. Rising back up in to the sky the sun light catches on their bronze, red feathers.
These majestic creatures have a wingspan of two metres with a distinctive forked tail. As its name suggests it has reddish plumage, with a pale grey head, yellow feet and a black tipped beak.
Red Kites eat a mixture of carrion and live food. The carrion will be road kill or diseased animals. They will also follow the harvesting looking for the chopped up remains of creatures caught up as the machinery passes by. I have seen up to 19 Buzzards and Red Kites coming in from surrounding areas during harvest. They will hunt live prey, small mammals such as voles, mice, rats and young rabbits. They take nestlings and steal food from other birds, but just like Buzzards, earthworms are an important part of their diet.
Red kites live in pairs and will mate during March and April. They have 1 to 3 eggs which are incubated for 35 days then the young will stay in the nest for 8 weeks before fledging.
The history of the Red kite is actually quite remarkable and has a happy ending. After being common birds in medieval times, towards the end the nineteenth century Red kites became almost extinct with around 10 to 12 surviving pairs found in Wales. Red Kites had been persecuted, hunted, eggs collected and the birds themselves collected to be put in a glass cabinet for display, but following the protection of the birds in Wales, the Red Kite was reintroduced to England and Scotland in 1989, followed by more being released through to 1999 .
Red Kites are now ‘Green status’ and there are around 1600 to 1800 breeding pairs, but they are still Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, meaning it is an offence to take, injure or kill a Red kite or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young. It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds close to their nest during the breeding season.
On my local patch there isn’t a day that goes past without me seeing a Red Kite. They hover over my garden , once even landing on our garden wall. They hunt over the fields and scavenge on the school playing field. They are truly awesome birds.