North East Red Kites

Red kite in flight by Ian Fisher.

2014 Results at a Glance (2013 figures in brackets)

  • 31 known active territories (27)
  • 25 nests built or refurbished (20)
  • 25 known incubating pairs (17)
  • 20 successful nests (9) fledging 35 young (18)
  • 2 further probable successful nests producing 5 young.
  • 5 nest failures (8)

Red kite at Far Pastures by Paul DuncanRed Kites have had their best breeding season since the species was re-introduced to the North East a decade ago with the aim of re-establish a viable population after an absence of 170 years. A record number were also ringed by the NRG.
The success came after the breeding population flat-lined between 2011 and 2013 with higher failure rates and fewer chicks fledging. Last winter was much less severe than normal and the warm and settled spring undoubtedly played its part in providing a much-improved season.
The 2014 figures show that 20 pairs fledged 35 young compared with just nine pairs and 18 young in 2013. The appearance of two other pairs, one with three young and the other with two, probably indicated success in areas where nests were not found. One of these pairs was within the Derwent Valley but the other was near Derwent Reservoir, an area which is obviously very attractive to the species.
A total of 22 chicks were ringed and 19 were wing-tagged by Keith Bowey and Ken Sanderson. Others were not handled because they were ready to fledge and, in one case, a tree was too flimsy and dangerous to climb.
This year’s young were fitted with the usual north east pink tags on the left wing and the 2014 tag colour, orange, on the right wing. For the first time, this year’s tags have an under-wing extension also bearing the individual’s letter and number which should assist with identifying the youngsters in flight or at roosts.
As part of its work during late winter and spring, Friends of Red Kites (FoRK), responsible for monitoring the population for the past five years, organised a major survey involving more than 50 volunteers to check all areas where kites have been reported.
The survey confirmed that so far the kites have failed to expand far from their core area around the Derwent Valley although two pairs nested around Sunniside, a pair was successful in a nest near Birtley which was last used in 2009 and another successful pair was in the Tyne Valley.
Red kite with ring by June AtkinsonThis year as usual most nests were in the core area, five in adjacent areas of North Durham and, again, there no confirmed evidence of breeding in Northumberland.
FoRK is extremely grateful to everyone who took part, putting in more than 1,000 hours of fieldwork. Those who participated are listed at the end of this report.
Despite this year’s success, FoRK is cautioning that the north east scheme is still far less successful than re-established populations elsewhere in Britain. If the local scheme had followed the national pattern we could have expected around 50 breeding pairs by this stage. The Yorkshire re-introduction project, started four years earlier than ours, has resulted this year for the first time in 100 breeding pairs. Two north east kites which moved southwards are among those successful breeding in Yorkshire.
The belief is that our local population is being held back by continued illegal persecution of kites, particularly youngsters, by shooting and poisoning once they leave the core area and move into game-shooting areas in Durham and west Northumberland.
The season saw a major effort to save a nest where the male was found by the local landowner with severe head injuries, probably caused by hitting wires or some other obstruction. The bird was taken to a local vet for treatment and was then nursed back to health at Talon Falconry, Lightwater Valley, Yorkshire. Worryingly, x-rays showed that this kite was carrying lead pellets, indicating that he had been shot at but had escaped in some previous incident.
Meanwhile, the female continued to care for the pair’s single chick. Food was put out for her so she did not have to move far to feed and leave it exposed to predators. After this care by the lone parent the chick successfully fledged. The male eventually recovered and was released back near the nest. Sadly, there was no happy reunion. The female ignored him and seemed intent on ‘divorce.’

The following took part in FoRK’s regional survey:-

June Atkinson, John & Sarah Barrett, Kevin Boyle, Cerian Brogan, Paul Buskin, Mary Briggs, Rod Burgess, Richard Cansdale, Brian Carter, John & Fiona Clapham, Jamie Coleman, Tom Cowing, Eddie Crabtree, Ken Dawson, Paul Danielson, Harold Dobson, Marion England, Glenn Fannin, Roger Forster, David Gaffney, Alan Hart, Stewart Hingston, John Hogg, Sylvia Jones, Ian Kerr, Nigel Lebbs, Jacky & Steve Lockwood, Elaine McCaig, David McDermiad, Helen McDonald, Ian Moorhouse, Brian Morrison, Shaun Morrison, Anna Newson, Bob Potts, Mike Potts, Mick Render, Catherine Robson, Ken Sanderson, Ian Spencer, Nadine Stiddard, Judy Summerson, Dan & Charlotte Walton, Tim Watson, Damian Woodgate, Barbara Williams, Marion Williams, Olivia Winter, Alan Witherington and Julia Wright,

Apologies for any accidental omissions.

Ian Kerr & Ken Sanderson (FoRK)
September 2014.