Red Kite Sightings in South Yorkshire and The Peak
A Red Kite was seen in the Derbyshire Peak District on 10th March 2018. It’s an intriguing situation. There is very little evidence of birds from the Yorkshire releases having moved southwards within the county.
Apart from a handful of breeding pairs in East Yorkshire, on the southern end of the Wolds, none of our birds are known to have bred south of a line drawn east to west through Leeds City Centre. We cannot say for certain that no single birds have ventured southwards (see below), but we suspect that kites being recorded currently in North Nottinghamshire, North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire are more likely to be the advanced guard of the population spread from the Midlands releases. These occurred in Northamptonshire in the mid 1990s and they’ve been creeping slowly northwards for several years, evidence of this being the increasingly northerly sightings of kites by travellers heading southwards on the A1.
This is largely guesswork, as we no longer fit wing-tags which would have indicated the area of origin if the tag co-ordinates had been recordable. In fact, the only confirmed sighting of a definite Yorkshire bird in that area was somewhere around 2002 when a bird from a Harewood nest was seen at Chatsworth. It returned to Harewood, paired up and bred there.
We’re currently watching a South Yorkshire situation where we have a pair of kites behaving as though they might be thinking of nesting. They’re not in the most secure of places, but it’s their choice! If they do breed it will be a landmark in the reintroduction process - the first pair to breed in the South Yorkshire area for more than 150 years – possibly longer.
The story of the female red kite, tagged Orange/Red 7
Our story begins in 2000 at Harewood Estate, West Yorkshire when the first confirmed successful Red Kite breeding in recent times occurred in Yorkshire. It involved an older female, which had been rescued from a cattle drinking trough in the Chilterns and cared for by the Zoological Society of London and a young male of Chilterns origin, released in the Yorkshire reintroduction programme by Doug Simpson MBE at Harewood in 1999.
They bred successfully in subsequent years and in 2003 produced two young which were tagged as Orange/Red 6 and Orange/Red 7. The former stayed in the Harewood area whilst the subject of this story decided to move to East Yorkshire where it was found in the company of Orange/Red 23.
They bred successfully in 2005 and to the best of our knowledge O/R 7 has done so every year since.
Initially, with permission from the estate of the nest location we were able to closely monitor the pair through the breeding season. Knowing the red kite’s habit of ‘decorating’ the nest with all sorts of articles, in one year the area beneath was covered in tissues. It was as though the birds had managed to carry a box up to the nest and proceeded to use the contents!
But then in 2008 an incident, nothing to do with Yorkshire Red Kites occurred elsewhere that prompted the estate to remove our access for close monitoring. In this same year we noted that in viewing from the public highway, the male seen breeding with Orange/Red 7 didn’t have any wing tags showing, so it is possible the original male, Orange/Red 23 had lost his tags. However this particular male bird had lost one of his left wing primary (the big ‘fingers’ at the end of the wing) feathers making him easy to distinguish right through the breeding season where he gained the name of ‘Gappy’ from one of our observers. So from that year on, instead of being able to count young in the nest we had to wait until any young that successfully fledged were to be seen flying above the nest site viewed from the public highway.
This method of monitoring has remained the same in subsequent years with the added complication that the estate owners have planted a double row of Leylandii conifers, not usually seen on farmland in the area, that have gained considerable height making our observations difficult.
However what we do know is that Orange/Red 7, now 14 years old successfully raised at least 1 young in 2017 that brings her total to at least 21 since 2005.
Our thanks go to Michael Flowers for capturing these images of her in Oct 2017 showing that the grand old lady is still flying free.
Sightings. The steady flow of reports of Red Kite sightings to the website shows that they are continuing to explore new areas – both urban and rural. The nature of some of the areas where they are now being seen contrasts starkly with the habitat in those remote parts of Wales which were the only places in the UK where they could be seen just a few decades ago. However, there is still a relative dearth of sightings from south of Leeds. In fact, putting on one side the East Yorkshire satellite population, our most southerly confirmed Yorkshire nest site is some 12km due east of Leeds City Centre and to the north of the A1(M)! This is a puzzle as there is apparently much suitable habitat in the southern part of the county, with historical records of presence some 200 years or so ago. A possible clue is that the general pattern of movement of kites away from UK release sites has largely coincided with the direction of the prevailing south-westerly wind. Indeed it is possible that areas south of Leeds may eventually be colonised by kites which are spreading slowly northwards from the well-established Midlands population.
On the afternoon of Saturday 11 March, a dead red kite was found near Greenhow, in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire.
An examination revealed the bird’s carcass contained what is believed to be lead shot.
PC David Mackay, a Wildlife Crime Officer of North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce, said: “It has taken many years to re-introduce red kites after their near-extinction from the UK, and these magnificent birds can now regularly be seen in the skies over North Yorkshire.
“They are a Schedule 1 bird and have special legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. They feed on carrion and pose no threat to game birds, farmed animals or pets.
“I would ask anyone who has any information that could assist the investigation to get in touch with me.”
North Yorkshire Police are being supported in the investigation by Yorkshire Red Kites.
Anyone with information is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 2 and ask for PC 1452 David Mackay, or email. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Please quote reference number 12170047155 when passing information.