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Young Red Kites Fly in Shropshire

The First Since 1876

At last, young Red Kites have flown from a nest in Shropshire, the first since a nest near Ludlow in 1876. The parents are almost certainly birds from Wales. It is particularly fitting that it is these native birds that have re-colonised Shropshire as the 1876 record was the last known breeding of kites before they became extinct in England as a result of sustained persecution.

Two nests were found in the South Shropshire Hills last year, but no young were raised. A pair returned to one of these sites this spring, and laid eggs in late April. The two young have just fledged successfully. The nest was found and monitored on behalf of the Welsh Kite Trust by Leo Smith, a Shropshire ornithologist living in Bishop's Castle. Leo said "It was a real thrill seeing the Kites settle down again this year, and even better when chicks were visible in the nest. It's especially good that two chicks fledged.

Lots of people have telephoned me with kite sightings this year. I'd like to thank them all, and ask them to keep reporting them in future years. We expect the number of nesting pairs to increase, and it would be nice to keep track of the whole population. Kites can desert a nest with eggs if disturbed, and they still suffer from egg collecting, so nest sites will be kept strictly confidential". Tony Cross of the Welsh Kite Trust, said "Red Kites almost became extinct in Britain 100 years ago and the remnant population, in Wales, remained at a very low level until the mid 1980s. Recently they have spread from their stronghold in the central Cambrian Mountains near Tregaron and Rhayader, and there are now well over 500 pairs, with several Welsh nest sites close to the Shropshire border. There is lots of suitable breeding habitat in the Shropshire Hills, so we expect the population to increase.

Kites have been reported from many parts of Shropshire for several years, and it is possible that there are other nests we don't know about. If anyone has been keeping this knowledge quiet, for the best of reasons, we would be very pleased to hear from them. We will treat the information with the utmost confidence.

We have ringed and tagged these chicks so that we can keep an eye on their progress now that they have left the nest. Any sightings of tagged kites either in Shropshire or elsewhere in Wales and the Marches would be gratefully received".

Two nests were found in the south Shropshire Hills in 2005, the first known instances of the species breeding in the County since 1876. Incubation at both sites started in late April. Unfortunately, both nests failed - one very early during incubation, and the other much later. It is believed chicks hatched in the second nest, but it is not certain, and failure probably occurred shortly after hatching. The nest failure rate of Welsh Kites is still high, around 40%, particularly amongst birds breeding for the first time, so this outcome was disappointing, but not surprising.

In 2006, in addition to the successful nest, Kites were seen in the vicinity of the second of last year's sites, but they probably nested back in Wales. No other evidence of nesting was found in the County, but they have been seen increasingly in the last few years, particularly in the south Shropshire Hills.

Mature pairs nest in late March, but pairs breeding for the first time may not have eggs until mid April, or even early May. Although the proportion of broods of two or three is slowly increasing, more than half of the successful nests only produce one fledged young, and the average productivity rate is less than one per breeding pair. Kites usually start breeding when they are two or three years old, though some start later, and the average age of first breeding is just below three. Young birds wander widely and cover large distances very quickly whilst foraging for food, so most of these recent local sightings will be due to immature Kites. Around one-third die in their first year, but after that the annual survival rate is around 80%, and some birds live to 20 or over.

Red Kites are the most graceful of Britain's birds of prey, but they almost became extinct in Britain 100 years ago, through human persecution. Only a few pairs were left in the hills of mid Wales by the early 1930s, and in some years only a single chick was raised. Since then numbers have slowly increased, assisted by a variety of systematic conservation measures, to 30 pairs in 1972, and more rapidly from the mid 1980s, finally reaching 100 pairs by 1993 and an estimated 260 pairs in 2000. The population is now growing much more rapidly, and their range has also expanded from the stronghold in mid Wales, near Tregaron and Rhayader, and there are now several known Welsh nest sites close to the Shropshire border. By 2005 there were around 500 pairs in Wales. A pair has also nested successfully in Herefordshire since 2004. The South Shropshire Hills provides excellent breeding habitat, and the County population is expected to grow. This progress has been overseen by a dedicated group of Kite enthusiasts, who set up the Welsh Kite Trust in 1996 to continue the work. The Trust has promoted conservation, organised nest protection, and monitored the Kite's increase in population and range.

If anyone sees Kites regularly, please ring the Trust Office on 01597 825981, or Leo Smith on 01588 638577. Any reports we receive will be treated with total and absolute confidence. Kites can be shy when nesting and at risk from egg collecting so nest sites are kept strictly confidential.

Since 1989 reintroduction programmes have taken place in several parts of England and Scotland, using continental kites. Monitoring nests in Shropshire is carried out under license by The Welsh Kite Trust. The Trust promotes conservation, organises nest protection, and monitors the increasing population and range. You can support this work, and receive a regular, well-produced, newsletter, by joining the Trust.

Further information from the Trust Office at "Samaria", Nantmel, Llandrindod Wells, Powys LD1 6EN, or from Leo Smith (01588 638577).

The Trust has produced a beautifully illustrated 48 page booklet, "The Red Kites Of Wales", with a large number of stunning colour photographs. It provides a full history of conservation and protection, and details of breeding behaviour and nesting success, based on the results of many years hard work. Much of the information in this article has come from the Booklet. It is available from the publisher, Subbuteo Natural History Books (0870 010 9700) price £4.95 (excluding P & P), and on this site.

4th July 2014