Whilst driving around Yorkshire you’ll often see the shape of a large bird of prey hovering overhead with its distinctive forked tail. Most of my clients are overseas visitors who were amazed by the sight and we’d often pull over and watch these majestic birds for a while.
The bird in question is The Red Kite and Yorkshire has become one of the best places to see them.
I was also lucky enough the year before I set up my Tour guiding business to work on a contract at Harewood House one day a week as a marketing project manager. One of the most memorable things was often watching 8 or 9 Red Kites circling The Courtyard most evenings as I left.
I thought I would shed a bit more light on these beautiful creatures and why Yorkshire has become so successful for Red Kite sightings.
Red Kites apparently used to be abundant in England, they were seen as scavengers who helped manage medieval villages waste and for this reason a Royal Charter was granted to protect them. But as human populations grew and food became scarcer they started becoming increasingly persecuted. Red Kites were also seen as predators to game birds, so game keepers hunted them to extinction in England during Victorian times.
In Wales a small population survived and slowly started to grow. But it was felt that this population would not be able to grow and recolonise England & Scotland quickly enough, so in 1989 a programme of re-introduction of Red Kites was started in areas such as The Chilterns and Inverness.
Yorkshire became the 5th Re-Introduction Programme and the Harewood Estate was chosen as the location. The Chiltern population had used birds from Spain but by the time of the Yorkshire re-introduction it had been so successful that they were able to supply over 60 birds for release in Yorkshire in 2003 to supplement 2 birds which had been released previously at Harewood in 1999.
Red kites are still mainly scavengers, usually feeding on creatures that are already dead such as roadkill, rabbits and rats. But they do take some live prey in the form of birds, mice and voles and even eat earthworms if food is scarce.
Males and females are difficult to tell apart as both plumages are reddish brown although females are slightly bigger. It is possible to tell a juvenile from an adult red kite, as adult birds have a grey head and a much more of a forked tail but juveniles have a more uniform colouration.
RED KITE FACTS
They are large birds with an impressive wingspan of up to 5ft
Including their tail their body length is 2ft
Red kites nest in trees – often building nests on top of old crows nests
The oldest Red Kite recorded was in Wales – aged 24 (most live up to 20 years)
The Harewood Estate Red Kite re-introduction programme has been so successful that birds have now spread throughout Wharfedale and other parts of the Yorkshire Dales as well as having reached colonies in the Yorkshire Wolds.
Red Kites usually lay between 1-3 eggs but some Yorkshire pairs have successfully brought up 4 young in a season. They usually start to breed when 2-3 years old.
Often you will see more than one Red Kite as they are sociable birds often playing with aerial chases and mock fights. This is seen particularly in younger birds who use the play to improve their flying skills.
Red Kites are not the only big birds of prey in Yorkshire and are often confused with Buzzards. If you are not sure just look carefully at the tail because Buzzards have rounded tails whereas Red Kites have a very forked tail.
The original re-introduction programme was sponsored by Yorkshire Water and was done in conjunction with the RSPB and English Nature. Yorkshire now has a self-sustaining population of Red Kites and there are 300 Red Kites recorded in the area around Harewood House alone, which explains why we see so many these days as we are driving around.
Quite a Yorkshire success story in just over 20 years!