One of the most attractive birds of prey we will be watching in the New Year is the Red Kite. These are stunning birds, with a wonderful blend of colours. When the classes first started 12 years ago this January, Red Kites weren't really established in this area, but we did see them in a couple of places. Since that time a reliable large winter roost began, and grows every year, and more importantly there are now quite a few established breeding sites. As the Red Kite continues to breed successfully and increases, it is bound to start nesting in new locations, so keep your eyes open!
Red Kite (c) 2015 Maurice Gordon
Before the introductions on the Harewood estate near Leeds seeing kites in East Yorkshire was virtually unthinkable. Hundreds of years ago kites were fairly common and widespread, and even cleaned up the rubbish thrown out on to the London streets. Then birds with hooked beaks were demonised and persecuted until they almost died out. In the 1970s there were just a few Red Kites left in a diminishing gene pool in a few Welsh valleys, but the re-introductions have been incredibly successful and even reinvigorated the native population. It is now possible to see Red Kites all over the UK, even in our largely flat East Yorkshire.
We were at Beacon Ponds at Kilnsea in 2006 when a wing-tagged Red Kite flew South, and we saw another there this year. I have also seen them near Thorngumbald and Paull Holme Strays.
The 2006 Red Kite going south through Beacon Ponds
Red Kites predominantly eat carrion, but in this area they have also been observed feeding on earthworms, and on one memorable occasion in early Autumn seen to be taking advantage of a mass emergence of craneflies.2 Red Kites (c) 2015 Chris Cox
Red Kites are charismatic birds of prey with relatively long thin wings, and a long deeply forked tail. The tail is a ruddy brown, and a flick from that can completely change the direction in which the kite is travelling. The long wings are tipped with black edges, and have white areas underneath and brownish patches on top. The head in adults is also whitish, which isn't a common head colour among other UK birds of prey.
We have occasionally seen Red Kites carrying nesting material in February. This usually consists of twigs, but has also included moss and on one occasion some wool, which it no doubt planned to use to line its nest. In Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale a character points out that it is the time of year that kites build their nest when you need to keep an eye on your lesser linen from theft by kites. At that period washed clothing was left on hedgerows to dry, and kites would swoop down to take this material to adorn their nests. A few years ago when all our local kite nests were monitored, and the young were measured and ringed, it was found that this habit still continues. A nest was located with a small England car flag in the nest, and even as recently as this year some small cuddly toys were discovered near a nest in Yorkshire.
Please keep your eyes open for Red Kites, especially with nesting material, appearing in new locations this spring. If you think you may have observed a new nesting location, please pass this information on to those still monitoring our Red Kites to ensure this new nest site is successful. Yorkshire Red Kites