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Wild Travel Magazine

Red Kites fly again in Ireland.

14/12/2006 00:00:00

Red kite facts

  • The Red Kite is so called because of its reddish brown body and tail. Its tail is deeply forked making it an easily recognisable bird. Kites have a wingspan of up to 1.8m
  • Kites normally breed in their second or third year. They build stick nests in trees, lining them with wool. Prior to laying, kites often decorate their nests with scraps of cloth and paper, prompting Shakespeare to write in A Winters Tale ‘When the kite builds, look to lesser linen’. They lay 2-3 eggs. We would expect breeding in Ireland by 2010.
  • The Irish name for the Red Kite is An Préachan Ceirteach, the ‘Cloth Kite’. This name is derived from the habit of stealing cloths mentioned above.
  • Kites exploit a wide range of food items. Carrion and worms are important year round but, particularly when feeding young, kites will also take live prey including small mammals, young crows, frogs and insects.
  • The Kite was once a common bird throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat loss and heavy persecution drove it to extinction in all parts of Britain and Ireland except the remote uplands of Wales where, at one point, there were just two known breeding pairs. Today due to the efforts of conservationists, farmers and landowners, there is a population of around 600 breeding pairs in Wales alone and the species is a major tourist attraction in Mid-Wales.
  • The continued fortunes of the Red Kite in Wales are monitored and researched by a small dedicated charity, The Welsh Kite Trust see www.welshkitetrust.org
Juvenile Red kite. © Tony Cross/Welsh Kite Trust.
July 2007. The beautiful Red Kite is once again flying free in Ireland after a gap of more than 200 years. 30 young Red Kites, collected from within the red kite’s stronghold in Wales, have been released into the skies of Co. Wicklow.

In 2005 Irish conservationists at the Golden Eagle Trust approached the Welsh Kite Trust with a view to obtaining young kites for a planned re-introduction to Ireland. Following a two-year consultation period these plans have been realised and the first batch of 30 young were released on Thursday 19th July.

The chicks, collected in June this year under a licence issued by the Countryside Council for Wales, were briefly housed at the Red Kite Rehabilitation Centre at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader prior to export. They are the first of around 120 birds planned for release over the next five years. This international, co-operative project follows the reintroduction of the Golden Eagle in Donegal and the outstanding success of several Red Kite reintroduction projects in England and Scotland.
Juvenile Red kites on their way to Ireland. © Tony Cross/Welsh Kite Trust.
History of Red kites in Ireland
The Red Kite was once common and widespread in Ireland but became extinct in the eighteenth century due to persecution, poisoning and woodland clearance. Red Kite bones have been found in archaeological excavations in several places in Ireland, suggesting that it was trapped or hunted as long ago as the ninth century AD.

Although kites are largely scavengers, they do also feed on small mammals, frogs and birds such as magpies and other crows which make them useful allies of the hill farmer. Indeed the assistance of several Welsh farmers was key in reassuring their Irish counterparts that the Red Kite would not present a threat to their livestock.
Juvenile Red kites on their way to Ireland. © Tony Cross/Welsh Kite Trust.
The future
The birds have been individually marked with numbered wing tags so that they can be relocated and their survival monitored. Future releases of young from Wales will be dependent on a high survival rate of these initial colonists. The first sign of breeding behaviour by these Red Kites in Ireland is expected to occur by 2010.

The Wicklow Red Kite Project is a partnership between the Golden Eagle Trust, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust. It is funded by grants from the Irish Heritage Council and the Irish Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

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