Red Kite Milvus milvus
Birds identified in Britain may come from one of three sources:
- Firstly wild birds in Wales: a population which once declined to a critical position but has now recovered well and has even spread across the border into England.
- Secondly, birds have been released in many parts of England and Scotland as part of a reintroduction scheme. These birds are doing well and spreading, and in recent years have become firmly established in Norfolk. Originally it was possible to identify many of these birds by the wing-tag they were given prior to release, and such birds frequently wandered well away from their release-sites, such as to Norfolk. Now so many are breeding freely in the wild that the vast majority of birds from this population are not separable from birds from the other two sources.
- Thirdly, birds from the Continent are scarce visitors to the UK. In Norfolk most appear in early spring and for me there are few more enjoyable sights than a migrating Red Kite moving west along the cliff-top fields at somewhere like Sheringham. Numbers of migrants increased in the late 1980s and 1990s and one bird that bred in Norfolk was believed to be of Continental origin. Since then the status of Continental birds has become impossible to decipher due to the increasing numbers of birds originating from the introduced population.
Much as I enjoy seeing Red Kites, it was among the first of an ongoing series of reintroduction schemes which became increasingly ill-considered. The purpose of such schemes is to restore a species to places where it formerly inhabited and the emphasis placed is always on conservation. However it is very obvious from the choices of species to reintroduce and the locations selected that these schemes have very little to do with conservation and much to do with publicity. There are clear guidelines laid down for reintroduction schemes which the bodies involved have all signed up to, but these are neglected or worked around in a manner which can only be described as dishonest.
As publicity stunts these reintroduction schemes are certainly successful. I would mind less if the RSPB admitted that this is what they are and stopped pretending they are being done in the name of conservation.
Whatever their origins, Red Kites continue to increase in Norfolk with numerous breeding pairs now present, and in winter several communal roosts now exist.
The best way to see a Red Kite in Britain - a Continental migrant moving west along the North Norfolk coast. (This image is a less-cropped version of the one shown further up this page).