Kites released to found new colony

High hopes of breeding as Spanish birds of prey are freed at secret Midlands site
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The Independent Online
Nine young red kites were released in the Midlands yesterday, in the hope that the carrion-feeding birds will establish a second breeding population in England.

The once-common bird of prey became extinct in England and Scotland at the end of the nineteenth century, with a small population clinging on in mid-Wales. The main reason for their demise was persecution by gamekeepers and farmers, who saw them as a threat to pheasants and livestock.

Since 1989, almost 200 young red kites have been released in southern England and northern Scotland in a joint programme between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and government wildlife conservation organisations. The new arrivals have begun breeding in both countries.

The Midlands releases yesterday were at a secret location in a gently rolling landscape of small woods and fields. The birds had been taken from nests in Spain, where the red kite is still abundant, in late spring this year when they were about five weeks' old. They were kept in aviaries at the release site and fed daily, to familiarise them with the cooler English climate and surroundings. Each was fitted with a radio transmitter to allow its movements to be tracked, and coloured wing tags to identify each individual.

When they were freed yesterday they all took to the air rapidly and began to disperse. For a few weeks, carrion will be left near the site to help them survive in the wild. The red kites will be monitored to see how far they travel and whether they manage to breed.

The RSPB believes that the reintroduction can be justified because Britain still has plenty of good red kite habitat, continental Europe has enough birds to provide the founders of a new population, and that the threat of persecution by man has now diminished.

But the threat to the small populations still exists. One of the red kites introduced in southern England was fatally poisoned, and another was hit by shotgun pellets. It has made a good recovery, and will be released in the Midlands in the next few weeks.

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