Have you seen a red kite?

RSPB NI is calling on the public to help build a clearer picture of the country's red kite population.

Red Kite. Picture Ben Hall
Red Kite. Picture Ben Hall

Red kites are magnificent birds of prey which were sadly persecuted to extinction more than 200 years ago because people mistakenly saw them as a threat to livestock.

However, back in 2008 the conservation charity joined forced with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species to Northern Ireland’s skies.

Over two years, dozens of young red kites were released into County Down and every year since 2010 these re-located kites have produced their own chicks.

Unfortunately, the project hasn’t been without its setbacks, with a number of birds dying from natural causes or as a result of poisoning.

The current population is thought to stand at around 12 breeding pairs and, although no further releases are planned, it’s vital the charity continues to monitor the population until it is at a sustainable level - estimated to be around 50 pairs.

With a dedicated team of volunteers and a seasonal Red Kite Monitoring Officer in place, RSPB NI is carrying out detailed on-the-ground monitoring but the more pairs of eyes searching the skies the better!

While County Down remains a hot-spot, red kites have been seen all over Northern Ireland as far away as Fermanagh.

Robert Straughan, RSPB NI Red Kite Monitoring Officer, said: “People will be able to easily identify red kites with their rusty-red colouring, forked tail, white patches under each wing and inky black wing tips, not to mention their five-and-a-half-feet wingspan.

“A dedicated team of staff and volunteers have been out tracking and monitoring movements for months, but we can only be in one place at one time and local people are often in a much better position to notice potential breeding behaviour.”

He added: “It’s a sad fact that some people misunderstand these birds. They lack the strength to pose a threat to livestock and are happy living off carrion, or ‘roadkill’, but some people incorrectly believe they are a danger during the lambing season.

“Red kites are a protected and causing them harm is an offence under the Wildlife Order (NI) 1985, so we are also asking people to keep an eye out for and report any signs that persecution is happening.”

To report a red kite sighting, email [email protected]. Sightings where wing tags are read are most helpful but even sightings of untagged kites, or where the tags could not be read, are also extremely useful. If you suspect that red kites may be breeding nearby, RSPB NI ask that you contact them as soon as possible as, once the trees in which the birds are nesting come into leaf, it is very difficult to locate the nests.