2 Apr 2015

Red kites: from the brink of extinction to life in the burbs

After persecuting them nearly to extinction, mankind is helping red kites make an incredible comeback, with thousands of suburban bird lovers now feeding the majestic raptors in their back gardens.

“We give them the leftovers from the local carvery,” said Victor King who’s been feeding kites for a couple of years. “They love a bit of fresh liver too”.

The reddish-brown raptors have a nearly six-foot wingspan – but don’t worry too much about your pet guinea-pig. Kites are mainly carrion feeders but more than happy with left-over roasts and scraps of offal.

By the 1980s there were just a few pairs left across the UK, but since birds were reintroduced from Sweden from 1989 onwards, numbers are thought to have reached 2,700 pairs nationwide.

Avian commuters

Now a new study at the University of Reading has found that more than 300 red kites are “commuting” into Reading each day to be fed in people’s back garden. They estimate more than 4,000 homeowners may unwittingly supporting the species’ comeback.

Local wildlife group the Chilterns Conservation Board are warning against feeding red kites. “There is plenty for them to scavenge on naturally,” said learning officer Cathy Rose. “The more people feed them in gardens the more reliant they will become on human hand-outs.”

However the researchers are less concerned. “They’re back because people made an effort to reintroduce them,” said Professor Mark Fellowes, an ecologist at the University of Reading. “And this extra feeding is no different than feeding other wild birds in your garden.”