Here in Britain the red kite (Milvus milvus) was hunted almost to extinction. In the 16th century it was classed as vermin, supposedly a threat to agriculture. A few centuries later, along came gamekeepers whose job was (and still is) to breed and protect birds and mammals for people to shoot.
By the end of the 18th century hardly any breeding red kites remained. As a child in the 1970s I dreamed of seeing a real live red kite one day. But in recent decades, they’ve been reintroduced at sites in Wales, Scotland and England. Now I often see them from my kitchen window! You can watch film of beautiful red kites flying here. You can read more about their history here.
So this is a story of success, reintroducing a species that had almost gone. Here’s some data about the rising red kite populations in Britain. But has this success gone too far?
Some people think that the red kite is now too common, disturbing people and pets, killing poultry. For example, Andrew Ffrench at the Oxford Mail tells us that red kites ‘are becoming a pest’. The problem? People feed the kites. So there are now more kites than their natural food supply could maintain. They’re mostly scavengers, eating carrion, but they’ll take live prey too. Mice, voles and squirrels, as well as earthworms and small birds. The BBC says that red kites have become so bold that they take food from people’s hands.
Do red kites kill poultry? It’s easy to find anecdotal evidence that sometimes they do. But I’ve seen no science about how often it happens. How much of a threat this is. If you find science about it, please tell me.