Friends of Red Kites 2016 Breeding Report for the North East of England

Summary of 2016 breeding

Number of known territories: 35

No. of incubating females: 14

No. of known successful nests: 9

No. of known fledged chicks: 18

No. of chicks ringed and wing-tagged: 13

No. of chicks ringed only: 2

No. of failed nests: 5 (plus 6 more probable)

More detailed report

The first confirmed successful nesting of Red Kites in Northumberland since a pair was poisoned in 2010 was a highlight of another otherwise disappointing season for this iconic species.

In early spring, pairs or single birds were holding around 35 potential nesting territories across the region. Of these, around 14 pairs went on to produce eggs. Nine were successful fledging 18 young while at least five nests failed.  Three of the successful nests were in County Durham, fledging 8 young, and five were in Gateshead’s Derwent Valley.

Pairs may have also been successful at other localities which could not be fully checked during the season so the figures for successful sites given above must be regarded as the absolute minimum.

Some nests failed because of natural predation and others probably from disturbance which will always be a problem because kites often chose to nest close to homes or in local woodland used for recreation.

At the closely monitored nest sites, 13 chicks were ringed and tagged. Two others were ringed but wings were not well enough developed for tagging. At another site the young were judged too large to safely handle.

The Northumberland success was the first for the county since the pair which was a big attraction for visitors to the former wild cattle centre at Whittonstall perished during the breeding season in 2010.

The success involved a very late nest in the Stocksfield area where two young did not fledge until early August, by far the latest  recorded since breeding resumed in the region. The pair may have failed earlier, perhaps after long clashes with local Buzzards, before producing a second clutch.

The nest was discovered during commercial felling operations when a harvesting machine was within 60m of the mature Scots Pine chosen by the pair. A visiting birdwatcher had first raised the possibility of nesting in the area. Shortly afterwards, a forester, familiar with kites after taking his children to see them in the Derwent Valley, noticed a bird slipping away from a nest.

The landowners contacted FoRK and timber operations were immediately halted at considerable cost and disruption to the estate.  The nest was regularly monitored and two young were ringed in mid-July when one of them was still too small for wing-tagging. FoRK would like to express its appreciation for the co-operation of this estate.

Concern has continued about the failure of our kites to spread from their core area in the Derwent Valley and the immediate surrounding areas. If the region had followed the trend of other re-introductions we should now have over 50 breeding pairs annually.

Ten kites have so far been found illegally poisoned in the region and one shot so persecution remains a problem and probably an inhibiting fact to expansion.

Another worrying factor is that the number of kites using the main roosting areas in the Derwent Valley showed a decline last winter.  Comments have also been made that people living in areas where kites were an everyday sight are now seeing fewer of them. This has been apparent even in the core area.

This winter FoRK is planning major efforts to monitor existing roosts site and to discover any additional areas being used.  Next spring an appeal will be made to the public to come forward with any evidence they have of kites frequenting areas where breeding has so far not been confirmed.

Ian Kerr and Ken Sanderson

For more information visit the FoRK website.