Why we need to stop feeding the red kites in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 11:39 25 July 2014 | UPDATED: 11:39 25 July 2014
The magnificent birds we love to watch soaring over the rooftops will do better without bits of chicken left on bird tables, Jan Raycroft discovers
As we wheeled a pushchair complete with sleeping tot down to the village shops, my daughter-in-law was becoming more and more anxious. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she declared. “It’s starting to feel as if we’re in that horror film, The Birds.”
The cause of her concern was that six red kites seemed to be following us overhead, and it didn’t help that during their swirls one curious bird chose to swoop from behind a large horse chestnut tree, turning away at the last second.
It’s a subject I’ve been meaning to return to for some time, and this month’s issue, with its focus on our skies, provided the perfect chance to carry out a little research into my amateur theory that in some areas we could end up with too many red kites.
Let’s clear up one matter straight away. The kites are not going to descend from the skies and grab children, cats or even guinea pigs. A mouse or vole is about the limit of these scavengers’ prey. As Wendy Tobitt of the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust points out: “The kites look very large but they are actually quite light birds. Nearly all that size is in the wingspan. So they tend to feed on worms, slugs and snails.”
So that’s the daughter-in-law’s worries about child-snatching dealt with and I won’t tell her that just over the border in Watlington there were complaints of kites snatching sandwiches from school pupils at lunchtime, or the anecdotes about a Reading multi-storey car park where dozens of kites are said to line up to keep an eye on us down below. But those slugs… we have no shortage of those in the Twyford area, particularly after rain, and the kites are welcome to them.
However, there is good evidence that supplementary feeding of red kites could lead to an unsustainable, concentrated population, something researchers at the University of Reading have been keeping an eye on for several years now.
Between 1989 and 1994 just over 90 juvenile red kites were released into the Chilterns close to Reading, having been extinct in England. While we were all excited to spot our first one, these days the kite is in danger of earning the reputation of the urban fox, loved by some, detested by others.
People may think they are doing the kites a favour by putting out bits of chicken for them, while neighbours are fed up with having bits of food dropped in their garden (which can attract rats) and windows and cars soiled by the birds.
In any case, it’s the wrong diet for the kites so any feeding should be done very occasionally. The truth is that we need the kites to spread out across the other towns, villages and countryside, not become reliant on people feeding them.