With the confirmed shooting of six Red Kites in Yorkshire and the death from rodenticide poisoning of a thirteen year old female kite tagged in 2004 as Orange/Yellow 6 (O/Y6), it looked as though the figure ‘6’ was going to be our unlucky number for 2016. We had not, however, reckoned on a chance discovery and incredible coincidence involving another number 6.

(Picture of O/R6 by Maggie Bruce and O/R7 by Charlie Wright.)

In September 1999 I released a kite at Harewood which was probably 2-3 years old. We didn’t know what sex it was – in fact all that we knew about it was that it had been rescued from illegal captivity where it had been kept after being retrieved, apparently unharmed except for a soaking, from a Chilterns cattle drinking trough. After what was, in effect, its second rescue, it was taken to London Zoo for assessment – they dealt with all health issues relating to the re-introduction of Red Kites into England. It received a clean bill of health and we were asked if we would take it, in the knowledge that it would be fitted with a transmitter, enabling us to check that it was managing satisfactorily in the wild after its lengthy spell in captivity.

Following its release, it stayed around Harewood for a while before starting to venture further afield. It spent the best part of three weeks in the Lower Derwent Valley, not far from Wheldrake. There was no shortage of food, there having been a serious outbreak of Myxomatosis in the area. This was bad news for rabbits but Christmas come early for kites! It then moved north of Harrogate before moving off southwards again. The last signal received from its transmitter in 1999 was on 30th November and suggested that it could well be heading back towards the Chilterns, from where it had originated.

Ever hopeful that it might return, I kept checking the radio-frequency of its transmitter and in early 2000 detected a faint signal, still in a southerly direction. It got louder and eventually the bird made its way back to Harewood Estate, where it settled. During late April and early May I could tell that, though active, it seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time in a particular area. On investigating, I found that it was sitting on a nest and by the end of May two chicks could be seen. This was extraordinary as it meant that we had young kites in a nest less than 11 months after the release of the first 20 birds into Yorkshire in July 1999. That the older bird should have turned out to be a female was a double bonus, the sexes of the first 20 young sourced from the Chilterns having been subsequently determined from blood samples as being 14 males and only 6 females!

The male of the pair was one of the young released in 1999 which had bred at less than one year old. One of the young raised took after its father and also bred the year after its birth. None of the other reintroduction projects in the UK and Ireland have had such early successful breeding.

To return to the number ‘6’ story referred to above, this pair of birds continued to breed together and in 2003 they produced two young which were tagged as O/R6 and O/R7. Records of these two birds showed that O/R6 remained in the Harewood area whereas O/R7 moved out to the Yorkshire Wolds where she was detected in the company of O/R23, a kite of Chilterns origin which had been released at Harewood. They settled and bred on a Wolds estate.

On 28th November this year, whilst on a visit to Harewood, a lady who is a member of an East Yorkshire group – Birding with Flowers -  took a photograph of O/R6. Just a few days later, by a remarkable coincidence, that group was visiting a Wolds site when they saw O/R7 – creating an intriguing link between two birds which were raised in the same nest more than 13 years previously.     

The ‘Sixes and Sevens’ connections don’t end there. O/Y6, noted above as having been poisoned by rodenticide, and her sister O/Y7 who nests in an adjacent wood, were also raised by the same pair of adults.  

Doug Simpson
Yorkshire Red Kite Co-ordinator
December 2016