The road from extinction - Yorkshire Ridings Magazine
The road from extinction
Samantha Woodman of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust tells the success story of the county's red kites to the Yorkshire Ridings Magazine
Red kites are a truly magnificent sight for any wildlife enthusiast; with a wingspan of 1.5 metres they are not only one of the UK's largest birds, but also one of the rarest and most beautiful. Red kites have had a rollercoaster ride over the last several centuries, going from being protected and valued as 'street cleaners' in medieval times, to being persecuted to complete extinction in England and Scotland by the end of the 19th century. Now, however, thanks to a group of dedicated conservation organisations and volunteers they have been reintroduced to sites across the UK and are making a steady come back. There are now over 2,000 pairs breeding in the UK with more than 100 of these pairs established in the heart of Yorkshire. Importantly, the growing UK population represents approximately 10% of the world's population of this majestic bird.
Although we continue to remain confident about the long term success of the East Yorkshire Red Kite population, unfortunately there has been a decrease in known successful breeding pairs this year. There are several accountable reasons for this, including: pairs that didn’t return to previous nest site areas, a pair that deserted, possibly due to disturbance and lack of access to monitor known nests.
Nest sites are numbered, starting from the oldest/ first discovered in East Yorks and running to the most recent, hopefully adding as we go!
Site EY1. Occupied initially in 1999 by a single bird which was joined by another in 2000 – both from the first phase of releases at Harewood. First bred in 2001, raising 2 young, the first in East Yorks for 150 years! Successful in all but one year subsequently. Sadly, this year the original female died, however a new bird moved in, then a new nest was discovered where 2 young were successfully raised.
Site EY2. Occupied in 1999 by a single bird from the first Harewood release. Breeding not proven until 2004 when this bird is believed to have paired up with a bird raised at Site EY1 in 2002, raising 3 young and have been successful each year since. This year we observed a sitting bird and then as the season progressed the foliage became so dense we couldn’t see the nest. Therefore, we had to wait for any young to fledge and are aware at least 1 young was successfully raised.
Site EY3. 2 untagged adults occupied this site in 2003. There is speculation that they may have been the 2 young raised at Site EY1 in 2001, breeding between siblings having been known. Sadly, the following winter, the top of the nest tree blew down in gales making the nest too exposed for future use. This pair successfully raised 2 young in 2010 in a new nest. Unfortunately, in 2011 the birds were disturbed and deserted. Since then, we have no evidence that there is an active nest in what could be one of the largest woods in East Yorks.
Site EY4. First occupied in 2005 by 2 birds which arrived from Harewood, one being a Chilterns bird released there in 2003 whilst the other was raised in a nest at Harewood in the same year. They have been successful each year since.A site where we have no access so,as in previous years, we were only able to observe from a considerable distance but are confident that the pair raised 2 young this season.
Site EY5. Established in 2006, the pair at this location produced young in subsequent years. This season, the pair moved back in to a previously used nest in the same wood. Again, with foliage being so dense it proved difficult to view the nest but we were able to establish that 3 young were raised.
Site EY6. Established as a breeding site in 2007 but failed. A new male, Orange/Green 10 (raised at Site EY1 in 2006) and new untagged female formed a pair, successful in 2008, but not at this site since then. For the next development in 2014 please see Site EY10.
Site EY7. Another site where we have no access. First occupied in 2007 but deserted. The same thing occurred in 2008. Observations from afar this season revealed a pair ‘on territory’ but we can’t confirm if any young were raised .
Site EY8. New in 2008. In 2012 the birds build a new nest in the same wood and we established that they raised 2 young. In 2013 they built a new, well decorated nest in a different wood and raised 1 young. 2014 has proved impossible to know the outcome! The pair was ‘on territory’ and another new nest, back in the original wood was located, very high and because of dense undergrowth no suitable location was found to view it. We believe it was active as with the kite’s habit of ‘decorating’ the nest we could see a part ball of knitting wool blowing about at it. Birds continued to be seen infrequently in the area.
Site EY9. A new location in 2008. Unfortunately, another site where we have no access. As last year, observations from afar have failed to show if this nest has since been active. It is possible that it might be this pair which has moved to the new site at EY15.
Site EY10. A new nest in 2010. A situation we just don’t have answers to occurred at this site in 2011 where the tagged male from Site EY6 took up residence. We have no way of knowing which female he mated with, but the successful outcome was 2 young raised in 2011 and 2012. We have reason to believe this pair were disturbed early in the 2013 breeding season and deserted this site. No activity was seen this season and worryingly the tagged male Orange/Green10 has not been seen for some time. We would be grateful for any information regarding this bird.
Site EY11. A new nest for 2011, located just approx. 30yds from the owner’s house! In 2012 and 2013, this pair successfully raised 3 young. This season we had excellent views of the nest and know that 2 young successfully fledged.
Site EY12. A new site for 2013, a relatively small nest from which 1 young successfully fledged. There was no activity at this site this season so please see Site EY16 for further developments.
Site EY13. New in 2013, located by sheer good luck when an adult kite was spotted taking prey into the wood and we observed 2 young successfully fledged. Unfortunately the pair did not return to this site in 2014.
Site EY14. New in 2013 and with excellent views available, the pair was seen to successfully raise 3 young. In 2014 the pair once again raised 3 young.
Site EY15. New in 2013, reported to us by the head keeper that 2 young had fledged. Unfortunately we received no information this year as to whether the nest was used or successful.
Site EY16. A short distancefrom SiteEY12. Although the birds aren’t tagged we believe it was the same pair and a new, decorated nest was located with the cooperation of the landowner for access. It appears that at the crucial time in the breeding season, the birds may have been disturbed and deserted. Kites were frequently seen in the general area where there is potential for them to establish, but we didn’t locate a new attempt at breeding.
Site EY17. A new nest for 2014 that we were made aware of from a very observant local couple. Permission for access was sought and granted from the landowner and 2 young were raised in a relatively small nest.
This brings our total of known new young Red Kites in our area to 15 from 7 nests. This means that more than 75 young birds have been raised in recent years. Moreover, it is highly likely that there are breeding pairs which we aren’t aware of, so we would be grateful for any further sightings of birds – particularly in areas in which you haven’t seen them previously.Kites continue to move off the Wolds and we now have several pairs on the plain of York. Sightings continue to come in from the East of our county and we are always grateful to receive regular sightings. East Yorks is a big area! With this in mind we would welcome any new observers who have both the time and genuine interest to assist us in tracking the population of Red Kites in our county.
The communal gathering/roost occurred again in one particular area with the record max. of 45 birds at any one time being raised to 65. From approx. early October to February, as the light fades kites begin to appear from all directions to gather and ‘play’ is often common before the birds finally roost. Maybe the ones that have found sufficient food earlier in the day and are ‘fed up’ have time on their hands. Play can be seen as carrying objects, twigs etc, dropping and catching them with others joining in. There are often aerial chases and mock fights, especially on windy days when not much energy is expended, giving young birds the chance to learn and improve skills. It may be that, come the following day, hungry birds can ‘share information’ and follow other individuals to a known food source, sometimes called ‘network foraging’. It is also likely that unpaired young birds may find a mate in the opportunity to socialise at the communal roost. Of course, we have no way of knowing which birds attend and it may be that some remain at their own territory.
Primary and Secondary Poisoning. Primary poisoning occurs when a kite has fed directly on a poisoned substance which has then caused its death eg a poisoned bait placed in the open countryside, possibly targeting crows or foxes. It is an illegal method of attempted vermin control, being indiscriminate in its effects. There have been two confirmed primary poisonings of Yorkshire Red Kites in North and West Yorks since the previous EY Bulletin was published, plus two of shot kites in West Yorks.
Secondary poisoning occurs where a kite has fed on something, which had previously been poisoned. This usually involves a bird having fed on rats which had been legally poisoned by rat poison. The recent analysis of a kite which had died from primary poisoning revealed that it had traces of no fewer than four different rat poisons in its system. It is imperative that manufacturer’s instructions are followed. Rats poisoned by rodenticides should be regularly collected up and safely disposed of to prevent them entering the food chain of kites and other scavenging species.
The Rehabilitation Pen has once again proved very useful. Having the pen makes the care and observation of sick or injured birds much more straightforward than it would otherwise have been.
Other species. I hasten to add these are purely our own observations but would welcome comments from anyone interested to reply. The year started well with a number of sightings of Brimstone butterflies. A disappointingly wet spring followed by a hot dry summer spell until August when the rain arrived! The wet spring, once again, encouraged the growth of grasses which made it more difficult to see many of the wild flowers. It was a good year however for orchids at the usual spots but also on the edge of one particular wood where about ten years ago there was one orchid and the numbers have been increasing year on year. This June there were too many to count! Many of the butterfly species have been more numerous this year including the orange tips, small skippers and ringlets. Common blue and marbled whites too, but not in profusion. The peacocks and red admirals are visiting gardens at the moment but so far no painted ladies. In April the first cuckoo of the year and for a few weeks we heard them regularly, a good sign. Breeding curlews were seen. Large numbers of mature trees, both conifer and deciduous have been blown down this year in the very strong winds that we have experienced. Something new was an Oak covered in Knapper Galls, caused by the Gall Wasp that distorts acorns. A memorable sighting occurred in early September in Allerthorpe Woods of an adder in pristine condition. Dark olive in colour with black markings and had been sunbathing, slowly moving away into the heather. If the old adage of a lot of berries means a bad winter then we’d better batten down the hatches!
Acknowledgements. Special thanks to Doug Simpson, MBE, Yorkshire Red Kite Co-ordinator, who was involved in the original release programme at Harewood, near Leeds for his continued advice and support.
Yorkshire Red Kites much appreciates the ongoing support from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. This will enable monitoring of the progress of our expanding Red Kite population to continue. The assistance of landowners and their representatives, gamekeepers and farmers over a wide area who have Red Kites on their land is readily acknowledged, as is the care provided for sick and injured birds by several veterinary practices, rehabilitation centres and the RSPCA.
Reports of Red Kite sightings received from the general public are always welcome. They help us keep track of the expanding population, a number of new breeding pairs having been located through such records.
More detail and information about Red Kites can be found on our website at:
The consolidation of the Yorkshire Red Kite population continued in 2014. Reports of the presence of kites are being received from an increasingly wide area. Many of these are probably roving birds and not necessarily of Yorkshire origin, but it is encouraging to know that they are exploring new locations away from areas already occupied. The number of pairs actually known to have bred in the county has reached three-figures for the first time since reintroductions began in 1999. The overall number of young produced was boosted by the incredible productivity of two North Yorkshire pairs. Between them, they raised a total of nine young. We have had a handful of broods of four in the past, but for a pair to raise five is exceptional and is a feat which may well be unprecedented in the UK. Another pair achieved a ‘first’ of another kind. They were very late in getting organised – so much so that their single chick did not fledge until early August, a month or more later than usual.
The contraction of the western boundary of the established breeding range has been referred to previously. Fortunately, we saw a partial recovery in 2014 with the discovery of two pairs in an area from which they had been absent since an unsuccessful breeding attempt in 2011. It was unfortunate that one of these pairs should fail when their nest blew down in a storm, resulting in the deaths of their two small young. However, their renewed presence in that location was a very welcome development.
Nests at two other locations also fell down. One was very big and had been in use for many years. There was a kite sitting on it at the end of April, but when it was checked again in early June it was in a heap on the ground. It was waterlogged, the presence of many pieces of plastic having no doubt caused it to hold water and become too heavy for the branches supporting it. It is not clear at what stage it fell down, there being no sign of either eggs or young kites amongst the debris. The young kite at the other fallen nest was very fortunate. The nest was a small scrappy affair which had managed to stay in place long enough for its single occupant to fledge. When checked towards the end of June the nest had disintegrated, but the young kite could be heard calling from a nearby tree.
There was further evidence this year of the intriguing habit whereby breeding kites collect soft toys, items of clothing etc. and take them to their nests. Our very first successful nest in 2000 had a teddy bear’s head and a tea-towel in it. Under one nest in 2013 there were three children’s woollen gloves – none of them matching. This year a ‘Bagpuss’, in pristine condition, was found below one nest with two rather more tatty items turning up elsewhere - begging the question as to where they find these things!
Golf courses are becoming increasingly popular choices for nest sites, there being at least three Yorkshire courses which are each known to be home to two breeding pairs. The birds become very tolerant of golfers who pass close to their nests – only raising objections when someone from YRK, complete with permit from Natural England, arrives to check their breeding progress.
Late in 2013 we heard of a pair which had bred in the middle of a paint-ball park. The location was checked this year and it was found that the birds had shifted away from the active area. They raised at least one young. A pair also nested in yet another paint-ball park. Their nest, from which they raised three young, was very high up in a Beech tree - at the foot of which were battlements used by the paint-ball combatants!
Nest monitoring each year begins with sites which had been occupied in the previous breeding season. This usually shows that a significant number are unoccupied, the figure this year being 14. Some of them were long-established locations whilst others had been new in 2013. It is only feasible to monitor pairs of kites during the breeding season and we have no knowledge of what happens to them for the rest of the year. However, the balance was more than redressed as the season developed, pairs being located at 30 sites not recorded as occupied in 2013. Disappointingly, the overall number found in East Yorkshire actually went down – the explanation for which is not immediately apparent. A summary of the known Yorkshire 2014 figures, with 2013 figures in brackets, is shown in the table below:
Average young raised per successful pair = 1.86 (1.92).
The deaths of a substantial number of kites caused by them feeding on illegal poisoned baits in North Yorkshire have been reported previously. Confirmation of a further alphachloralose victim has taken that figure up to 21. For the first time since releases began in 1999, incidents involving the persecution of kites have been recorded in West Yorkshire. Two were shooting victims whilst another succumbed to a bait dosed with three different poisons. One of the shot birds was still alive and received urgent veterinary treatment. It had been shot through the thigh, entrance and exit holes caused by the projectile being clearly visible. Fortunately, it had suffered no lasting damage and was successfully released following a spell in the rehabilitation pen.
Please report suspected wildlife crimes to the Police by phoning 101. Suspected poisoning cases should also be reported to Natural England on 0800 321 600. More information on these topics can be found on the website.
Rat poisons are an ongoing threat toRed Kites and other scavenging species. Eleven Yorkshire kite deaths have been confirmed as caused by them feeding on poisoned rats. In early 2014 the Barn Owl Trust (www.barnowltrust.org.uk) launched a petition calling on the Government to tighten up the rules relating to their use. Ideally, professional advice should be sought in order that a situation is properly evaluated. This ensures that the correct product is used and properly applied and that the amount of poison introduced into the natural environment is kept to a minimum.
The rehabilitation pen was again put to good use. As well as accommodating the shot kite, it briefly housed a young buzzard which had been found grounded and reported to us as a kite. Forty-eight hours in the pen enabled it to recover and it was released back where it had been found.
Sightings of kites seen to be regularly frequenting new areas are particularly welcome. This helps us to confirm new breeding pairs and monitor the progress of the expanding population. They can be reported through the website at www.yorkshireredkites.net or to one of the following contacts:
As ever, we acknowledge the help we have received from the many landowners and their representatives, gamekeepers, farmers, veterinary practices and members of the public who have assisted in any way. The ongoing financial support from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for Red Kite monitoring work is very much appreciated.
North Scotland Red Kite poisonings - the Kite Officer's view
Ross-shire massacre: "the worst 2 weeks of my life", says red kite officer
Brian Etheridge should have been celebrating this week; it's the 19th anniversary of his work as the RSPB's Red Kite Officer in the Black Isle area. Instead, he's witnessed one of the worst mass poisoning incidents in recent times: 12 red kites and 4 buzzards found to date. The 12 red kite victims were birds that he's known for years.
Police renew hunt for person who killed red kite near Harewood
Police are appealing for help to find the person who shot dead a "majestic" red kite near Harewood.
Officers were first alerted to the crime – it is an offence to take, injure, kill or disturb the species – last autumn, after the shot bird had been taken to the Harewood House Bird Garden.
But the police are still searching for the perpetrator, and this week renewed their appeal for anyone with information to come forward.
North East Leeds Wildlife Crime Officer PC Andy Katkowski, a member of the Wetherby and Harewood Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "We were called to reports of a dead red kite that had been found in Carthick Woods, next to the River Wharfe between Harewood and Collingham.