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feature article Flying High Red Kites are a Chilterns success story, writes Amber Tokeley


One of the things I love most about living here in the Chilterns are the Red Kites. There is something about that elegant fork-tailed silhouette soaring high above that never fails to lift the soul. It’s elemental, glorious even...the thin, high call that makes even the cat sit up and take notice, and the almost fierce joy of watching them arc effortlessly through the Blue like lords of the sky, a blaze of burnished copper in the sunlight. Thanks to ideal conditions – plenty of natural


food for scavenging, open areas to forage over, and decent swathes of woodland for nesting and roosting – the Chilterns was an obvious choice when a pioneering reintroduction scheme began in England just over 25 years ago. It has since proved to be the most successful conservation scheme ever in the UK. This awe-inspiring bird of prey, which had been


persecuted almost into extinction, can now be seen over almost every village and town in the region. At least 1,000 nesting pairs have now established themselves and they have thrived so well that nearly 300 young birds have been removed to start reintroduction schemes elsewhere in the country.


Aerial displays Winter is often the best time to see this gregarious bird in action, when they congregate in woodland roosts in the late afternoon and put on spectacular aerial displays that rival those of the Red Arrows. Sometimes this may be for no other reason than


‘play’, which also helps youngsters hone their enviable flying skills. But in February and March, mating pairs re-establish their bond in soaring acrobatic courtship displays. Good viewing spots include Watlington Hill and Aston Rowant Nature Reserve; West Wycombe Hill and Stokenchurch also often attract large groups of birds. Red Kites normally lay their eggs in April, in


untidy, twiggy nests close to the edge of woods. These are often lined in sheeps’ wool, niftily plucked off brambles or fencing, but materials have also included an eclectic range of other items, including underwear! Part of the hawks, vultures and eagles


(Accipitridae) group of birds, their preferred food is carrion and worms. They are opportunistic, though, and will occasionally swoop on small live prey such as rodents or injured birds. Contrary to popular mythology, they are far too


weak to carry off the family cat, although I once witnessed one swooping down to check out my sleeping Siamese. I’m not sure which animal got the bigger fright when she woke up, but the kite backtracked like a Disney cartoon.


Supplementary


feeding problems Tempting though it may be to attract these stunning birds to your own garden, conservation organisations are strongly urging people not to feed kites. There’s plenty of natural food available and it’s far better for the kites’ welfare if they remain self-reliant. Supplementary feeding is also increasing the kite population to ‘nuisance’ levels in some areas, occasionally bringing them into unnecessary conflict with people. Poisoning remains a significant threat to kites due to their scavenging habit. The irresponsible use of highly toxic second-generation rodenticides is a particular problem which could be eased by opting for less toxic first-generation products such as Warfarin, as well as using rodenticides responsibly and promptly removing poisoned, dead rodents. Overall, though, the future looks bright for the


The Red Kite has a pale grey head and


chestnut red body with striking white patches under its wings and a forked tail.


Red Kite. Cathy Rose of the Chilterns Conservation Board said: ‘They are widely loved, both by local people and the many visitors who come here to enjoy them. These magnificent birds have acted as a catalyst to encourage people to discover more about the wildlife and countryside of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’ 


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The Red Kite has a 2m-wingspan yet weighs just 2-3lb; this increases its agility and allows it to stay almost effortlessly airborne for hours.


Further information ∫ The Red Kite has full legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.


∫ If you find a dead kite, please report it to your local Wildlife Crime Officer; for advice on an injured bird, contact Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital near Aylesbury (01844 292292).


∫ Find out more about the Chilterns’ Red Kites at www.chilternsaonb.org/about-chilterns/red-kites.html


Chiltern Rangers is a not-for-profit, social enterprise based in High Wycombe. Its mission is to enhance Chilterns habitats through conservation, education and community engagement.


We are always keen for new volunteers to help us. One way is through our Green Thursday Conservation Volunteer


Group. The group is open to all and meets each week at Wycombe Rye Lido car park at 10am.


www.chilternrangers.co.uk


PHOTO: CHRIS SMITH


PHOTO: JOHN MORRIS


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