“Preying that mouse doesn’t get away” (Photo courtesy of Nature's Home reader, Stephen Green)

The red kite has sadly had a turbulent past. Throughout the Middle Ages, the species were best known for being litter pickers from above, cleaning the roads of debris. In fact, kites were protected by royal decree – destroying kites would land you with a hefty capital punishment sentence! But, in the 16th Century the species became known as ‘vermin’, like so many birds of prey, and as such led to the decline of the iconic bird. Its demise spurred one of the longest running and continuous conservation projects in the world.

Game keepers believed and wrongly accused kites for stealing game which accelerated their journey to near extinction, the species becoming a keen choice for egg collectors and taxidermists. It was in the late 1800’s that red kites could no longer be spotted soaring above the countryside; they became extinct in England in 1871, and Scotland a little later on in 1879. Only a few pairs were left teetering on the brink of extinction in rural Wales by 1903. Conservation efforts sprang into action for one of only three globally threatened species in the country. Some of the first nest protection schemes helped rescue kites from national extinction, designed by the first Kite Committee which established in 1903, and was supported by the RSPB by around 1905.

Luckily, conservation projects have been a huge success and kites are now green-listed, with a much brighter future ahead of them. You’re most likely to see kites in flight, and they’re relatively easy to identify from other birds of prey. Kites are a part of the kite, hawk and eagle family, similar to buzzards, sparrowhawks and marsh harriers. Distinguishable by deeply forked tails, red/brown plumage and angular wings with white bands running across the underside, kites are an impressive bird by any means, made all the more so by their feisty resilience.

Prevalent across much of England, Scotland and central Wales, you probably won’t be too far from spotting one of these stunning birds. They thrive in the Chilterns, Argaty and along the Galloway Kite Trail, to name a few hot spots to catch them. You can also head to the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Llanarthney, where Nature’s Home reader Steve Green snapped this fierce character about to wrap those menacing talons around its next snack. I’m just glad it’s not me.

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  • Great story but...whopping talons?  It is the fact that  Red Kites have relatively small talons that prevents them from killing live lambs, pets or children and carrying them off!   Their main food is carrion, and not generally living animals or birds, or at least that is the tale I've heard.