GUEST BLOG by Alan Ferguson, Red Kite Project Officer at RSPB NI
Next year will mark 10 years since the ground-breaking reintroduction of red kites in Northern Ireland.
In 2008, RSPB NI, the Golden Eagle Trust and the Welsh Kite Trust began the ambitious project to bring these magnificent birds back to Northern Ireland.This year has been a hugely successful one for our red kites, with a record number of chicks being ringed. Red kites had been persecuted to extinction 200 years ago in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland, when people mistakenly believed that the birds were a threat to livestock and game. Yet a small population had remained in Wales, so chicks were introduced to Northern Ireland from Wales in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as part of an all-Ireland plan which saw the birds released in County Wicklow and County Down.
At the moment there are 20 territorial pairs of red kites in Northern Ireland, with the highest number of chicks – 28 – ringed this year, all in County Down. Hopefully the number will continue to soar, with the assistance of the public. There have been sightings in County Armagh in previous years, but none this year. As well as the ecological benefits for the countryside, there are potential additional benefits for wildlife tourism if the red kite population continues to flourish. The major priority now for the RSPB is to re-engage and reconnect local communities and schools, to let them know that they should be proud of these stunning birds of prey and to once again give red kites a home in Northern Ireland.
Working with schools to educate and enthuse children about red kites is important, but the general public have a real part to play too. These birds aren’t tagged or radio-tracked, so we have to rely on a small dedicated team of volunteers and the public to let us know about sightings. In May of this year, publicity around the red kites project helped the RSPB to identify new territories after members of the public reported sightings. So please do keep your eyes on the skies!
Please report any red kite sightings in Northern Ireland to firstname.lastname@example.org, telling us the time, date and location of your sighting and any wing tag colours, letters or numbers.