While its larger cousin, the Golden Eagle, is revered as a national symbol in many countries, the red kite is seen as an outlaw. Its infamy was mentioned by Shakespeare when King Lear describes his daughter Goneril as a detested kite. He goes on to say, “When the kite builds, look to your lesser linen.” This was in reference to them stealing washing hung out to dry in the nesting season.
Under Tudor ‘vermin laws’ many creatures were seen as competitors for the produce of the countryside and bounties were paid by the parish for their carcasses. In the mid-15th century King James II of Scotland decreed that they should be ‘killed wherever possible.’
So it is no wonder that the red kite became extinct in Scotland in 1886.
The very first Scottish reintroduction was on the Black Isle, north of Inverness,
in 1989, when around 100 birds, from Scandinavia, were released. In 2007 30 birds were released on the outskirts of Aberdeen, and the last kites were released in Aberdeen in 2009, taking the total there to 101 birds. The figure increased to 214 nesting pairs across the country last year.
Despite the birds being protected, occasionally people take the law into their own hands. In the north of Scotland, illegal poisoning was hampering the reintroduction efforts. Farmers had labelled them a nuisance and a threat to livestock, particularly pheasants. The onset of spring and the arrival of the lambing season heightened such fears.
However, the RSPB state that red kites lack the power, strength and speed to take anything larger than a young rabbit, never mind a lamb. Besides that, they do not hunt mobile prey, but prefer to feed on meat scraps, earthworms, carcasses, frogs and the occasional mouse or rat.
Some Scottish farmers have listened to their advice and have established feeding stations on their sheep farms, which have become popular visitor attractions. Feeding stations exist on the Galloway Red Kite Trail and at Argaty Red Kites in Doune.
The Galloway Kite Trail (Opening times 2013 (01/01/2013 – 31/12/2013) has attracted an estimated £33m in visitor spending since its launch in 2003, which also demonstrates the contribution that these scavenger birds make to Scottish Tourism.
The Galloway Kite Trail
Red kites decorate their nest with unusual items such as soft toy racoons, mouse traps, toy lemurs, tennis balls, toy dogs, and a toy rats. This is all in addition to the usual gloves, wool and socks.
Red kite nest
Local primary schools choose names for the red kite chicks. There are around 75 chicks named by schools such as Echt Happy Chappie, Elmo, Professor Feathers and Kingswells Bullet.”
Facts and Figures
• Their wingspan stretches almost two metres and they typically weigh about 1kg (2-3lb).
• They start to breed at the age of two or three, and their eggs are usually laid in March, although first-time breeders might not lay until April.
• They typically lay between one and four eggs, each laid three days apart, and the incubation period is 31 to 35 days.
• When they hatch, the chicks can be quite aggressive and the larger chicks will peck at the younger chicks. This sometimes results in the youngest chicks dying, either from starvation, or from pecking.
• Red kites can live for up to 20 years.
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