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Red kites soar to highest level for 150 years

Last modified: 21 October 2009

Tagged red kite in flight

red kites are many people's favourite raptor

Image: Angus Hogg

Red kites have reached a 150 year high in Scotland, after a hugely successful twenty year reintroduction programme by RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage around the country.  Since 1989, the graceful bird of prey has been reintroduced in four parts of Scotland, with a minimum of 149 Scottish pairs fledging 234 young in 2009.  

Red kites are beautiful, sociable raptors with six foot wing spans and distinctive forked tails, and are mainly scavengers.  Once common all over the British Isles, widespread killing of the birds in Victorian times led to less than 50 pairs surviving in mid-Wales by 1989, when the bird was reintroduced to the Black Isle North of Inverness, and the Chilterns in Southern England.  Since then, further Scottish releases have taken place in Central Scotland, near Doune, in Dumfries and Galloway near Loch Ken, and on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

These strategic releases are now bearing fruit, with increasing intermingling of the different populations around the country.  Most areas below 1500 feet are probably suitable for red kites in Scotland, and so it's hoped that one day almost everyone will have some of these marvellous birds near them.

Duncan Orr Ewing, Head of species and land management with RSPB Scotland said:

"Over 20 years, red kites have been brought back from extinction in Scotland to almost 150 pairs, which is almost certainly the highest number for 150 years.  We hope that the population has now reached a critical mass - amazing visitors and helping local economies at the same time.  We'd also like to thanks the many landowners and farmers who support this vital conservation work by hosting red kites on their land.  These birds should be quite common in our countryside, and over the last twenty years the ground work has been laid for that to happen again in the next twenty."

Minister for Environment, Roseanna Cunningham said:

“Scotland is renowned for its bird-life and red kites are especially popular with their impressive wingspan and forked tail making them easy to spot. These magnificent birds could easily have been lost to us for good so to have reintroduced them so successfully is a real feather in the cap for conservation efforts. RSPB Scotland and everyone involved is to be congratulated on making this possible.

“I myself am fortunate in living close to a reintroduction area but with larger populations Scotland-wide and successful ecotourism projects like Argaty Red kites, now everyone has a better chance seeing these beautiful birds in the wild.”

Professor Colin Galbraith, SNH’s director of policy and advice, said:

"It’s fantastic news that red kite numbers are now so high and growing in Scotland. This ambitious programme has really delivered results, after a lot of hard work from many people. With red kites now beginning to spread throughout Scotland, it is wonderful that the public is responding so enthusiastically to seeing kites in the skies again. The birds are, however, still threatened by illegal persecution in some parts of the country. It is important that landowners and conservationists alike redouble their efforts to protect the red kite, so it continues to spread across its historic range."

Highlights of the 2009 breeding season

Aberdeen Red Kites The three year Aberdeen Red Kite project was completed this year, with 36 young birds released in the countryside around the city, to bring the total released since 2007 to 101.  There were even five nesting pairs formed from the 2007 releases for the first time, fledging 7 young, with CCTV footage from one of the nests displayed in Aberden City Centre, to inform Aberdonians about their wonderful new neighbours.  For more information, see http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/projects/aberdeen_kites/blog.asp

Central Scotland The population in Central Scotland continued to swell, up from 45 breeding pairs in 2008 to 55 in 2009, with 74 chicks fledged.  The popular red kite viewing point at Argaty Red Kites, near Doune, is expected to receive over 8000 visitors this year - see www.argatyredkites.co.uk for more information.  West Perthshire also saw significant population increases.  One male kite raised on Mohamed al-Fayed's Balnagown Estate in Ross-shire has successfully nested in Perthshire after exploring the UK, taking in Balmoral Estate, Wales (where he spent 3 winters) and Co Durham!

Black Isle The Northern Scottish population has enjoyed a modest increase for the second year running, increasing from 45 to 49 pairs which fledged a record 95 young.  Additionally, the 'Eyes to the Skies' project was launched - an innovative way of linking schools and communities with red kites by fitting satellite tags to the birds for the first time un the UK.  For more information, see www.eyestotheskies.org.uk

Dumfries and Galloway In Dumfries and Galloway, 40 pairs (up from 30 in 2008) fledged 58 young (up from 53).  The population is doing well, expanding in both numbers and range, with the birds edging closer to Dumfriesshire from their Galloway heartland.  The popular red kite trail around Loch Ken offer tourists another great chance to see the birds, with Bellymack Hill feeding station reporting an increase in visitor numbers, which is helping to benefit the local economy.  For more information, see www.gallowaykitetrail.com

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