Rescued from extinction: red kites fly again

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The Independent Online
After 100 years of near-extinction, 16 red kites were released in the east Midlands yesterday in the hope that this much- persecuted bird of prey will be helped to establish a second breeding population in England.

The once common carrion-feeding bird died out in England and Scotland at the end of the 19th century, with a small population clinging on in mid Wales.

The main reason for their demise was that they were persecuted by farmers and gamekeepers, who saw them as vermin and a threat to livestock and gamebirds.

The releases were part of the second phase of a five-year project organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and government wildlife conservation organisations, which have released 200 young red kites since 1989.

During the first phase, which ended in 1994, two new breeding populations were successfully introduced in southern England and northern Scotland. At the beginning of the second phase last year, 11 kites were released in the Midlands. Two have since died.

All the birds in yesterday's reintroduction were flown in from conservation centres in Spain. They were fitted with radio transmitters and wing-tags to monitor movements and breeding patterns. Carrion will be left to help them survive the first weeks in the wild.

Mike Everett from the RSPB said: "Phase one of the operation was a great success, "and apart from the two deaths last year, a survival rate of nine out of 11 isn't at all bad. We intend to release even more birds over the next three years and, hopefully, by the turn of the century we should have a lot more kites flying around."

The red kite, noted for its distinctive slow wingbeat and forked tail, feeds mostly on carrion, but will also take earthworms, beetles and small birds and mammals.

Kites are just one of many birds of prey which are still being poisoned, trapped and shot despite government-supported campaigns against illegal persecution. The RSPB says cases of persecution rose from 115 in 1994 to 141 last year. Among the worst-hit species were buzzards, peregrine falcons, hen harriers and sparrowhawks.