The Tale (tail) Of The Ragged Kite!
We've had several photos sent to us recently of red kites looking "worse for wear"!
Red kites moult a small number of their feathers on an annual basis, with non-breeding birds starting to moult earliest in the year (even as early as April). Parents tend to start moulting once their young have fledged in June / July.
Moulting is an energy-sapping process, it taking individual feathers 8 to 10 weeks to grow back to full size.
Many times you will spot that the gaps in the wing feathers are symmetrical (same on both sides), this is a natural occurrence helping the birds maintain their flying abilities. In general feathers will be moulted in the same pattern / order on each wing during each moult season, with moulting normally having concluded by November.
Our red kites do not migrate over large distances, though you will find them congregating in 'winter roosts'. As with many birds moulting is unusual during winter months as the birds are conserving their energy. If you see a bird with a missing feather at this time of the year it may well have been damaged by flying into something!
A section taken from © Sam Reynolds photo clearly shows at least 3 areas of regrowth on the right wing.
A great image from © Martin Roper showing asymetrical missing primary feathers near the end of the wing and regrowing secondaries (as seen) hidden from view nearer the body. We can clearly see a regrowing tail feather (retrices).
The image above from © Terence Porter, which featured in a previous News story, shows the white on primary feathers that is normally covered by the last (missing) primary feather.
And a final image from © Leon Kirkbride which appears to show a red kite with a damaged wing feather
There has been little research in to the annual moult of the red kites, but for those who would like to learn more about raptors and their moult we can suggest reading https://bioone.org/journals/ardeola/volume-65/issue-2/arla.65.2.2018.rp1/Moult-in-Birds-of-Prey--A-Review-of-Current/10.13157/arla.65.2.2018.rp1.full
Yorkshire’s oldest confirmed breeding Red Kite
In 2019 we have been monitoring a newly built nest in East Yorkshire, in a wood where we’ve been observing breeding red kites since 2001. Earlier in the breeding season we observed a kite sitting on this nest and, as in previous years, almost as soon as we approached the location, we had a second adult kite flying above us.
On this occasion the adult kite flew and perched close enough for us to see - through high powered optics - that it had a leg ring on its right leg and we were able to read some of the digits.
From our records we’ve established that this kite is the same male that first arrived at this East Yorkshire location in 2000 from the release programme at Harewood. During the 1999 release programme he was wing-tagged Orange/Black17, but these wing tags have fallen off in the subsequent years. This makes him 20 years old and from our records we know he has been one of a partnership (where he has had at least two partners) that has successfully raised 36 young and this number could increase this year. He is also very special because, in 2001, he was one of the birds that gave us the first confirmed record of breeding red kites in East Yorkshire for 150 years.
All our monitoring activities are carried out with the landowner’s permission and under a permit from the British Trust for Ornithology. It is important to note that we keep the frequency and duration of our visits to an absolute minimum.
Both images by Mike Booth.
Any images taken during monitoring within the breeding season are for monitoring purposes only and kept to a minimum in strict accordance with the BTO permit.
Red Kites on Canvas
Our friend Julie Arme from Acorn Glade Glamping at Melbourne, East Yorkshire https://www.acornglade.co.uk/ is an artist working in Mixed Media and has produced this life size, textured image of a red kite. Julie has suggested that if anyone was interested she would consider selling it.
Contact Julie directly please through the website above.
Who's a lucky bird?
It's nice to be able to tell, what we hope will be a happy ending story.
Our coordinator Doug got a call from Harewood on Wednesday. A kite had been found trapped up against a fence and had been retrieved. Its plumage was in a mess and it had an injury to one wing. It could have been stuck there for several days. Lucky someone noticed it.
Doug took it to Crab Lane Vets in Harrogate - specialists in Red Kite work. They x-rayed it and found no signs of serious damage to the wing. It’s plumage has been cleaned up and it is feeding well. Now in the rehab pen at Harewood - see image below.
On checking the number on its BTO ring Doug found that it was one of the first batch of kites he fetched from the Chilterns in 1999. It’s nearly its 20th birthday. Let's hope it makes it.
The updated story of the female red kite, tagged Orange/Red 7
Our original 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 on 7 June at 16.50 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, by now more than 14 years old successfully raised at least 3 young in 2018 that brings her total to at least 24 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.
But the story doesn’t end here because on Tuesday morning 22 January 2019 Michael spotted O/R7 again, now more than 15 years old. A hen pheasant had been hit by a vehicle and was laid in the road and as with all kites, ever the opportunist for an easy meal O/R7 who had been perched nearby, spotted the casualty and dropped down for an early lunch.
Once again our thanks go to Michael for capturing the image above and sharing the story with us.