Thirty years ago British red kites were on the brink of extinction. Now the RSPB estimates numbers at 450 breeding pairs throughout the country, and the population is growing thanks to an exceptionally successful conservation campaign – the world’s longest running protection programme, launched in 1903.
Red kites can reach a wingspan of 5 feet and have a distinctive reddish-brown body and forked tail.
During the 20th century, kite numbers declined due to habitat loss, egg collecting and illegal poisoning by gamekeepers. However, conservation strategies and a successful reintroduction back into England (at one time kites were found only in Wales) have resulted in the current flourishing population. Mark Avery of the RSPB warns that care was still needed. “The threats which caused their declines in the first place could still pose further risks in future.”
A new colony in Gateshead now boasts 11 chicks, including one nest in the grounds of a Tesco; the supermarket giant is not usually known for its conservation efforts. Keith Bowey, manager of the Northern Kites colony in Gateshead, comments that “In Shakespeare’s time, red kites were a familiar sight feeding in London streets, sometimes, famously, taking food from people’s hands. Perhaps nesting next to Tesco is the 21st-century equivalent.”
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