Once it was only walkers in remote Welsh valleys who could enjoy the sight of soaring red kites but record number of red kites were spotted during this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the latest signal that the bird’s reintroduction programme has been a success. There was an increase of over 130% since last year in sightings of red kites during the weekend of the survey and they moved to number 53 in the rankingsof most frequently seen birds in gardens.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were just a handful of red kites in the UK, and the few that remained were confined to remote Welsh valleys. From the 16th century, people were encouraged to kill red kites as'vermin' and 400 years of deliberate persecution followed. As they became rarer, red kites were the targets of egg collectors and taxidermists and soon fewer than a dozen pairs of kites survived in the Welsh valleys. With legal protection, reduced persecution and thanks to the dedicated efforts of conservationists, the Welsh birds began to expand slowly but by the 1980s they were still confined to Welsh mountains and remained very vulnerable. A jigsaw of red kite reintroductions across the UK began in 1990 to help bring the kite back to its former range and have proved to be one of the greatest conservation success stories ever. Seven per cent of the world’s red kite population is now in the UK. More red kites were recorded in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch than ever before. Only the birds that landed in gardens were officially recorded but numerous comments on survey forms and online forums suggest even more were seen flying over gardens and the results are further proof that the birds are continuing to flourish.
Sarah Kelly, Big Garden Birdwatch Co-Ordinator, said, “Of course it doesn’t mean that they landed on bird tables or hung off feeders like garden birds, but it does mean that they were spotted around more homes and gardens than ever which is fantastic news as a few years ago we would have had far fewer sightings. We are heartened that so many people recognise them and get to enjoy them close to home.” Jeff Knott, RSPB Species Policy Officer, added, “Red kites areone of our most elegant birds of prey and they are a spectacular sight. I defy anyone that gets to see them flying not to be in awe of them and the increase in Big Garden Birdwatch sightings is great news for both the public and the birds themselves. The survey results are the latest proof that red kites are again prospering in the wider countryside, a vast improvement from the situation only 20 years ago. " While red kites are currently doing very well in the UK, elsewhere in Europe they continue to be badly affected by illegal poisoning. With big declines in the species’ core range, the importance of the UK for red kites in global terms seems likely to further increase over the coming years.
The RSPB has a series of red kite ‘Date with Nature’ projects around the UK this summer, enabling you to see the birds up close and personal for yourselves. Sites include Ceredigion, Argaty and Knebworth; to find one near you visit www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature