September 24th, 2018
It is a story of fierce survival, steely determination, and a fight for recognition; but it is also one of the most famous success stories of twentieth century conservation, so it’s little wonder that the beautiful Red Kite has been unofficially adopted as the icon of wildlife in Wales.
And it is their quiet tenacity that led the British Trust for Ornithology to bestow the extraordinary title of “Bird of the Century” upon the Red Kite in 1999.
Brink of Extinction
Seeing the impressive two metre wide wingspan of the Red Kite fully outstretched and hovering high above was a common sight in the countryside, towns and even cities of Britain up until the 16th century, but because they were scavenging birds they weren’t looked upon with the same respect and admiration that they command today.
Despite King James’s persecution of them in the mid 1600’s when he declared that as many as possible should be killed, they remained protected until the eighteenth century because they helped rid the streets of unwanted rotting meat and dead animals.
However, it wasn’t long before Red Kites were branded as vermin, and city officials began to rid their skies of these beautiful birds, a practice which soon spread to the country. The remaining Red Kites fled to the depths of Wales, and by the 1930s they had been almost completely annihilated; it is thought that just two breeding pairs remained. As Red Kites became ever rarer, they faced even further threats from egg hunters and taxidermists.
The precarious plight of the majestic Red Kite was noticed by some farmers and landowners, and during the 1970s, wildlife organisations like the RSPB and The Kite Committee stepped in with an official and intensive programme of protection, monitoring and rehabilitation.
By 1994, the Red Kite population had jubilantly reached 100 pairs in Wales, and a few years later their protection was taken over by the Welsh Kite Trust, who has helped this spectacular bird of prey go literally from strength to strength. It is now estimated that the Kite population of Wales is close to 1,000 pairs.
Gigrin Farm in Rhayader, Mid Wales was one of the first farms to become officially recognised as a Red Kite Feeding Centre in 1992. The RSPB had noticed that Kites came from miles around when the farmer, Mr Powell, threw food out onto the fields for them, and proposed that he open the farm to the public. Not only would the feeding help with the protection of the birds and help them through lean times, but it would also keep more people away from disturbing the birds at their nests.
From small beginnings, the numbers of kites that visit the farm are now estimated to be about 500 per day, and the very rare Leucistic (white) Red Kite is frequently spotted here. The feeding is increasingly popular with wildlife enthusiasts and tourists, and the farm now also operates as a rehabilitation centre for injured or ill kites.
The Red Kite is now not only prevalent in Mid Wales again, but they have also been spotted recently in the skies above Snowdonia and North Wales.
The Red Kites of Wales are now firmly standing on their own two feet, but their incredible rescue from extinction and battle for survival remains one of the most famous wildlife conservation stories of the last century. And we hope that these beautiful birds will continue to fly the kite for British wildlife for many more centuries to come.
Find out more about the work of the Trust, become a memeber or make a donation at www.welshkitetrust.org.
Find out about the Gigrin Feeding Centre at www.gigrin.co.uk