Feeding Red Kites

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Image by Clare Scott at Harewood Yorkshire

Feeding stations have been provided in some areas of the UK. This is something which has been deliberately avoided in Yorkshire, believing that we should aim for a naturally sustainable Red Kite population.

Enquiries are received from time to time about feeding Red Kites in domestic gardens. These birds are opportunists and are always on the lookout for food as they fly around. They can become very confident and it is known that they not infrequently visit gardens of houses, particularly those in outlying districts and on the urban fringe. Typical questions include the principle of feeding them in such situations and what type of food to provide.

From the outset, the intention was to establish a truly wild Yorkshire Red Kite population. We are aware, from problems arising elsewhere, that there is a risk of them being provided with inappropriate food items such as sausages, burgers etc. which could contain harmful additives and from which there may be an absence of elements essential to a healthy diet. It is believed that this may have been the cause of a calcium deficiency identified in two of the young birds brought to Yorkshire from The Chilterns, one of which did not survive. The provision of a correct, natural balance of food is particularly appropriate in the breeding season.

In addition to the health issue, there is a potential nuisance factor. Whilst there is little that can be done to prevent Red Kites spontaneously visiting gardens where they’ve spotted a potential food item, we would not wish them to be encouraged to become habitual garden scavengers and risk getting a bad name through visiting places where they are not welcome. We have received phone calls to this effect and have sought to assure the callers that we do not train them to visit gardens nor do we encourage garden feeding. For similar reasons we have not established a feeding station, such as has occurred in other areas. We believe that the birds should find their own food rather than possibly becoming dependent on regular handouts – something which could affect the population distribution and discourage them from spreading.

The problem of inappropriate food being provided for kites in the Chilterns resulted in the general public being asked not to feed them in their gardens. Exceptionally, where circumstances permitted, it might be acceptable to occasionally provide them with something which they would find naturally – one potential source being road-kill rabbit or pheasant. This should help to ensure a naturally balanced diet, including nutrients, roughage and calcium. Essentially, though, we are looking at large gardens where the presence of the birds and the nature of the food provided would be unlikely to create health hazards and problems with neighbours.