Saturday, July 09, 2011

Let's go fly a kite

The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) is one of the UK's largest birds of prey and certainly one of the most attractive being a glorious deep orange-red colour with splashes of white, cream, brown and black. It is impressive in flight and has a wingspan that can reach six feet in adulthood. In most places, the Red Kite is a rarity and they have 'near threatened' conservation status overall. But not around here. Where I live, Red Kites are as common as pigeons.

It just so happens that I live between High Wycombe and Amersham on the Chiltern Hills; one of the areas where the Kites have been reintroduced. They became extinct in the UK in the 1870s but were reintroduced in 1989 and supported by an intensive breeding programme. There are now hundreds of breeding pairs. You can't look up in the sky and not see a Red Kite in these parts. It's a good place for them around here as their diet consist mostly of small mammals and carrion. We have lots of fields and broadleaf woodlands full of mice, rats, rabbits, pheasant, pigeons etc. We also have some major roads nearby such as the A404, the M25, the M4 and the M40. Consequently there's plenty of roadkill.Kites are smart opportunists. In recent years, most of my friends have told me stories of these huge birds diving into their back gardens to grab food from barbecues or to steal their dog's bones. So I thought it might be interesting to try to lure a few down in my own garden. As it happened I'd been deboning a couple of pigs heads I'd got from a smallholder chum (the cheek is the very best bit of a pig) and had lots of trimmings and fat left over. So I threw it out on the lawn and watched.

In no time at all I had something like 20-25 Kites circling above the house. They jostled each other and made practice swoops but none would come down until I'd shut my back door. Once I did, a cheeky magpie hopped over to the meat and had a tentative peck. That was the cue for a feeding frenzy. Kite after Kite came plunging down at lightning speed, grabbing the meat in their powerful claws. The whole pile was gone in seconds. I managed to snap a few shots - my apologies for the washed-out look but they were taken through double-glazing on a dull day - but you can still get a sense of how amazing these birds are. You get the scale when you compare them in size to the wheelbarrow.

It was an extraordinary sight. But I never tire of seeing these magnificent creatures. I'm lucky to have so many of them so close to me. I'll set up another photoshoot soon with a better vantage point.

(All photos by me.)


Glenn Carey said...

I suppose I'm not too far away from you, in Downley. I've noticed lots of young red kites recently. One of them pounced on a crow in my garden this morning:

Stevyn Colgan said...

Wow! Yeah, not too far away - I'm up on the Hazlemere/Penn border and there seems to be a real concentration of them here (probably because of all the woodland - Kingswood etc.). Stokenchurch always seems to be another area to spot them in their dozens.