Red kite’s survival is story of real triumph

Red kite in flight

Red kite in flight - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Last week, while travelling through Marldon, I caught sight of an unusual bird - it was definitely a bird of prey.

Initially, I thought it was a buzzard, which are still a relatively common sight throughout the area, however the forked-shape of the tail was the dead giveaway.

It was in fact a red kite.

This bird’s revival, against a background of loss and environmental gloom and doom, is a story of real triumph and gives some much-needed hope of what can be achieved in restoring species and rectifying past wrongs.

The eye-catching silhouette I spotted high in the skies above Marldon would have been very familiar to our ancestors. Indeed, these birds performed a valuable role as scavengers in the city of medieval London; in fact, Shakespeare referenced our capital as the ‘City of Kites and Crows’.

They were also reported to have a predilection for stealing linen off washing lines for their nests!

So, the red kite obviously had a long and close association with man.

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However, this beautiful bird’s fortunes swiftly declined due to relentless persecution - they were wrongly blamed for taking game bird chicks and attacking lambs, when it reality they prefer earthworms and carrion - and by the Victorian fad of egg collecting.

At the end of the 18th century it had disappeared from the streets of London and, by the beginning of the 20th century, it could only be found in a rural mid-Wales.

In 1989, conservationists began an ambitious scheme to return the Kite back to its former haunts and the release of 93 birds has proved an astounding success.

Now we have well over 1,000 nesting pairs and red kites can be spotted by the ‘eagle-eyed’ right along the M40. They have even been seen back in their old haunts of London.

Up until quite recently, there haven’t been too many sightings of red kite here in Devon, but now that seems to be changing.

Apparently, the last Devonshire breeding occurred right back in 1913, when a pair reportedly bred near Dartmeet.

Hopefully, one day soon, this impressive raptor will become a familiar sight in the skies above the Bay.