Summer holidays last week with some time on the edge of the Brecon Beacons followed by a fabulous day walking in the Yorkshire Dales. Two rather different events were linked by close views of one or our most iconic species. The first a relaxing late afternoon with Gin & Tonic in hand, sat outside our delightfully cute shepherd’s hut nestled on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and then a rather less relaxing roadside stop to change a badly ripped tyre courtesy of a stray bit of Yorkshire stone wall. Both areas are strongholds for the Red Kite a bird that for some in the southern half of Britain is increasingly appearing in gardens.
Red Kites are the only resident kite species in Britain and are a conservation success story having recovered from years of persecution with the help of several reintroduction schemes and can now be encountered with some frequency in many areas in England, Scotland and Wales.
Both my sightings were of individuals typically flying quite low, slowly hunting for dead prey. Red Kites are almost exclusively scavengers and only occasionally catch live prey. Relatively easy to identify, with long wings, deeply forked tail and rufous/ginger cast over the body, wings and upperparts they are an elegant raptor with a lazy flight style, tails often twisting in the air as they search for food.
In areas where Red Kite numbers have recovered and increased this canny scavenger is beginning to reappear in urban areas and occasionally gardens that can offer rich pickings. In fact some urban garden feeders have even taken to feeding Red Kites scraps. If you do have Red Kites visiting your garden we’d advise not feeding until late afternoon to allow them to use their natural foraging habits earlier in the day and the best foods are those based on whole small mammals (e.g. mouse or rat). Don’t use any carcasses that may have been poisoned. Do remove uneaten food at the end of the day to avoid attracting rats.
Other small garden birds may disperse if a Red Kite suddenly arrives into your garden but this will be a short absence as most small birds will re-appear within a short time to garden feeders. If you’ve had a Red Kite in your garden why not share the experience in the comments.
Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.