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The Red Kite is a bird of prey (Milvus Milvus) which is native to the British Isles, but which was extinct in England by end of the nineteenth century. In the early 1990s, the Red Kite was reintroduced into England and Wales and this has been a huge success, with the bird becoming a frequent, even common, sight in certain areas, notably in the Chilterns around the M40 corridor between High Wycombe, Bucks and Chinnor, Oxfordshire.
As I live in High Wycombe, Red Kites are occasionally seen swooping over the town, gardens and playing fields near my house, and are instantly recognisable by their reddish-brown colour, large 2 metre wingspan with splayed tips, and its very distinctive long forked tail. It also has a distinctive flight style, which consists of effortless gliding along with a tumbling, stalling motion. Who would have thought that this traffic-infested corner of Metroland would be the place to see such rare and beautiful creatures in the wild?
Red Kites feed mostly on carrion or roadkill, but will attack small prey if necessary. Live prey include worms and insects, birds such as crows, gulls and pigeons, and rabbits, but nothing larger. One reason the Kite was hunted to extinction is because for many years farmers mistakenly believed that they would attack and kill lambs. While they will feed on already dead animals, they will not attack live animals of this size. Another cause of their demise was the fondness of the Victorians for killing and stuffing animals and displaying them in glass cases rather than enjoying them in the wild.
Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of conservationists and the RSPB, the Red Kite is flourishing once again, and I hope it will become common all over England and Wales, not just in isolated pockets. Of course it is a protected species and the nesting sites are a carefully guarded secret, for there are still those who prefer to possess natural objects of beauty such as rare eggs rather than simply enjoy them for what they are. However, attitudes have generally improved since the Victorian age and society does not tolerate this sort of thing so much now. The Red Kite appears to have a bright future! Nice to be able to report a piece of ecological good news for a change.
The site below has some great pictures of the Kite, and much more information