The Welsh Kite Trust and the Shropshire Raptor Study Group again tried to find the nests of all breeding pairs of Red Kite in 2017. Since the first nests were found in 2005, and the first successful breeding in 2006, significant results include:
1. 207 nests (143 successful) found and monitored
2. At least 269 fledged young
3. 196 fledged young tagged in the nest
4. 28 tags read on individual nesting adults, some seen over several years
5. More nests were found in 2017 (28) than in any previous year.
Twenty-eight nests were found, five more than last year, but access was refused to monitor one of them. This is the highest number yet, the previous highest being 26 in 2014. Eleven were at new sites.
Some of these nests are very close together: two are only around 400 metres apart, both have been occupied for four years, and for the last three years both were successful. One of the new nests is less than 2km from another nest occupied for the last four years. Several other pairs have neighbours within thee kilometres.
One further pair was located, but no nest was found.
Eight of the nests failed, but 19 were successful (one more than last year, the highest successful number up until then). The outcome of one nest is unknown, where permission to monitor was refused. Assuming that all chicks large enough to tag survived, at least 32 young fledged from them, one more than the previous three years 2014-16, but not as high as 2011, when 36 fledged.
Sixteen of the fledged young from 10 nests were ringed and tagged. 2017 tags are black with yellow letters on both wings, as shown in the photo of T0, tagged at a nest north of Shrewsbury.
In common with previous years, the high turnover of nest sites continued. Eight nest sites used in 2016 were not occupied. Eleven nestswere at new sites, while 27 other sites, which have had breeding Kites in earlier years, were also checked, without result. However, 12 pairs used the same nest as last year.
Two unsuccessful nests were found in 2005, and between then and 2014, 59% of the total nest sites used in that 10 year period were used for one year only.
Figures for 2017 include a nest literally on the County border, near Bromfield. The border is a stream, and the wood was on the Herefordshire side, but the nest over-hanged the Shropshire side of the stream.
For the first time, a nest site was reported from north of Shrewsbury, and the chick photographed above successfully fledged from it. One other nest was reported from the northern half of the County (the SJ ordnance survey grid squares), and two young fledged from that. These two nests were 5km north, and 10km south-west, of Shrewsbury, respectively.
There were many reports of individual birds in the north, including several in the vicinity of Telford, so breeding is expected there in the near future, if it hasn’t occurred already. The steady move eastwards probably continued, but a nest on Wenlock Edge which was occupied successfully for the three years 2014-16 was not re-occupied, and although several Kites were seen in the vicinity of Brown Clee and Titterstone Clee, no nests were found. Only one nest was found east of the A49 road, near Ludlow.
As the population increases and spreads, nests become harder to find, so the breeding population is now undoubtedly well over the 29 pairs located, and the 31 pairs located in 2015.
Comparison with Previous Years
The number of nests has grown rapidly, as shown in the chart. The number found in 2017 is the highest in one year since Kites returned to breed here in 2005, after an absence of 130 years. Since then, a total of 207 nests have been found, and 143 (69%) have been successful.
There were more fledged young (36) in 2011, from only 20 found nests, but 32 fledged in 2017, compared with 31 in each of the three years 2014-16 inclusive.
Since the first successful breeding in 2006, at least 269 young are known to have flown from Shropshire nests, and 196 have been tagged. The number of nests found, successful nests and fledged young in each year is shown in the chart, and summarised in the table.
Since the first successful nest, average productivity has been 1.31 fledged young per nest found and 1.88 per successful nest. However, in 2017, productivity / nest and productivity / successful nest was considerably lower than average, and the worst since 2012 and 2013, which were both badly affected by severe weather. Figures are shown in the table.
2017 was the driest spring for many years, and June was partly wet and windy, and partly very hot, so the poor productivity was probably weather-related.
As usual, productivity in Shropshire nests was considerably higher than in the adjacent monitoring area in East Powys, where the comparable figures were an average of 0.96 fledged young per nest found and 1.40 per successful nest since 2003, and 0.7 and 1.3 respectively in 2017. Better productivity in Shropshire is attributed to better weather (generally warmer and drier, and better food supply.
A white Kite was seen several times during the winter months near Bridges; in April, after nearby pairs had laid; and was still there in October.
White Kites are leucistic, lacking the brown pigment in the feathers. They are not true albinos, as they do have pigment in the cere and legs (yellow as normal), and in the iris in the eye.
This is believed to be a result of the genetic bottleneck in the Welsh population, when there were only two breeding females in the 1930s, and it affects about 1 in 150 Kites. Few have attempted to breed, but all those that have are males, so they may all be males. None are known to have bred successfully.
The absence of pigment makes the feathers less robust and much more prone to wear and tear. The tail feathers of the bird in the photo are very worn.
In 2014, an adult was found dead on the ground directly under one nest. There were no visible signs of injury or persecution, but the landowner had used rat poison in a nearby barn, so it is likely that this caused the death of the Kite. Two well grown chicks were later found dead in the nest, presumably from the same cause. Rat poison is a common cause of death, and it is found in potentially lethal amounts in most dead Kites sent for post-mortem. The corpse of this adult was sent for post-mortem analysis immediately after it was found, but preliminary results were not received until 24 January 2017Extensive haemorrhaging was found, similar to that “found in birds in which high levels of anticoagulant rodenticides have been detected”, and samples have been sent to the Predatory Birds Monitoring Scheme for further analysis. The results of this have still not been received, 40 months later, an indication of the effect of Government cuts (“austerity”) on wildlife monitoring and resources to investigate possible breaches of the law.
There were 9 tagged birds at Shropshire nest sites in 2014, but the number has declined since, with 8 in 2015 and 5 last year.
Four of the nesting adults in 2017 had wing tags, and all were read. One unsexed five-year-old was found near Craven Arms, at the same nest that it occupied in 2014. It was not recorded in 2015 or 2016, but was probably present there. A five-year-old female was present at her nest site for the fourth consecutive year, and two three-year-old females were also present, one for the second year but at a different site, less than 2km distant from that occupied in 2016, and one for the first time.
A seven-year-old female, tagged at a Shropshire natal site near Knighton in 2010, was found for the second year running at a nest in Wales, west of Knighton and just over 6km south of her natal site, and she too may have been at this site in previous years.
A total of 28 different tags have been read at nest sites, 12 males, 12 females and four sex unknown. Males have moved an average of 17 km from their natal site, and females 17km. However, three of these (two males and a female) were long-distance colonisers from Wales in 2007 and 2008. If these three are excluded, the averages are 8km for males and 10km for females. If subsequent colonisers from Wales and the female returning to Wales are also excluded (i.e. only birds that moved within Shropshire are included) the averages are 7km for males but still 10km for females. These figures illustrate yet again how sedentary Kites are, but there is a tendency for females to move further.
The average age of first breeding is 2.5 years, and average last observed breeding is 4.3 years (including 4 still alive). Three have reached 7 years old. The oldest was killed by a car, early in 2015, 8years 7months 7days after ringing.
Several other tagged Kites have been reported during the year. Blue E5 was photographed near the Stiperstones in February 2016. Photographers who take digital pictures of Kites are requested to blow them up and check for wing-tags. If the photo is sharp, the tag can often be read, as in this case, and such photos provide very useful information. This Kite fledged only 2km away, six years earlier in 2010.
There was a historic sighting in March 2016, in north Holland, of a Kite tagged Black/orange 11 in a nest south of Church Stretton in 2014. It is the first ever record of a kite ringed in Wales or Shropshire by Tony Cross crossing the North Sea, out of a total of over 3,000. It was one of a brood of two, and its sibling Black/orange 12 was seen near the Stiperstones in July 2016.
This is one of several examples of where siblings have survived for relatively long periods, or gone on to join the breeding population. The proportion of siblings at nest sites is considerably higher than would be expected by chance, indicating that some breeding pairs have much stronger genes than others, an example of natural selection at work.
Three tags were read at the Linley roost site (see below), including Blue/black E5 shown above.
Winter Roost Sites
Kites often form roosts in the mid-winter months. The first roost was found near Kempton early in 2009, with up to 14 kites present, but only one tagged individual was seen at the roost on all six visits. Assuming that the turnover of tagged and untagged kites was the same, around 20 different individuals used the roost. A larger roost was found at the same site in 2010, and the tagged birds indicated that the majority were one-year-olds from Wales. The furthest travelled came over 100km, and four more came more than 50km. The roost was visited 43 times, no individual was present for as many as half the occasions, and seven out of 17 tagged individuals were only seen once. A second roost, near Wentnor, was also found in 2010. Tags suggested that most there were one-year-olds from Shropshire nests. Again, knowing that individuals did not join the roost every night, and assuming that the turnover of tagged kites was the same as untagged kites, around 60 different individuals were present at the two roosts in 2010. Only three were seen at both roosts.
Subsequent attempts have been made to find winter roosts. One of up to 32 individuals was found in 2012, but the birds disappeared quickly into the wood, and no tags could be read. No regular roost site was found in the following three years, but three winter roosts were found and monitored in 2016 (near Aston-on-Clun, maximum of 39 on 22 January; near Norbury, maximum 17 Kites on 23 January; and near Wentnor, maximum seven on 27 January.
The ratios in 2009 and 2010 suggest that the total number of Kites using the roosts was double the maximum on any one night, and the 2016 count is therefore estimated at around 120 individuals, an increase of 100% on the 2010 figure. The number of tagged birds was surprisingly small, with only two at the first site and one at the third. All three roosts were at the top of a hill, so it was not possible to reach a position for reading tags, and none were actually read.
In 2017, four roosts were found:-
- near Onibury, maximum count of 21 on 1 January 2017
- near Aston-on-Clun, maximum 21 on 24 December 2016
- near Lydbury North, maximum 14 on 9 December 2016
- near Norbury, maximum 11 on 11 December, 2016. Three tags were read at this roost: yellow/black 07, fledged from a nearby site in 2011, and subsequently found nesting near Lydham; purple/black 02, from near Aston-on-Clun in 2016 (too young to nest in 2017); and blue/black E5, fledged from a nest near the Stiperstones in 2010, and photographed near the Stiperstones in 2016 (see above). A Kite this old has almost certainly been breeding, but the site has not been found.
Also, a pair that nested near Clun roosted close to the nest site the previous winter.
Although many nests in Shropshire are now no longer found, and tagging all the young that are found is physically impossible, it is thought that the number of tagged young is probably around 30-40% of the total one-year-olds in early 2016. Therefore the small proportion of tagged birds suggests a continuing influx from Wales, where tagging finished three years ago.
The future of Kite Tagging
It is getting increasingly difficult to tag a high proportion of the population. It was decided to continue tagging chicks in the nest in 2017, in the hope of reaching 200 tagged young from Shropshire nests. Unfortunately, we did not achieve that, finishing on 196.
To ensure that as much as possible is learnt from the tagging, finding nest sites in the hope of locating tagged adults will continue until 2020, by which time most of the surviving Kites tagged in 2017 should have joined the breeding population.
Inter-mingling of Different Populations
The original colonisers were native Welsh birds, and there is no evidence from wing tagging that birds from the various reintroduction programmes have nested here, though a 2005 bird from near Thrapston, in Northamptonshire, was seen at a roost in February 2010 and a month later near Bucknell, and others from the Chilterns have occasionally been recorded in Shropshire Bird Reports. However, recent DNA studies (Skujina 2013) provide evidence that an adult breeding south of Clun in 2012 came from one of the reintroduced populations, possibly from Dumfries and Galloway, but originally from some of the birds introduced from Spain. The study needs to be extended before its origin can be identified with certainty (Mike Hayward pers.comm.). The Kite seen in Holland was also possibly descended from one of the reintroduced populations, as those from Sweden are migratory.
If anyone knows the location of a 2017 Kite nest, or finds one in 2018, please don’t assume we know about it. Please tell Leo Smith 01694 720296, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Red Kite Experience, Craven Arms
The Red Kite Experience at the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms started feeding in November 2014, with the aim of attracting a limited number of Kites so people can see these wonderful birds at close quarters. However, it was not until the following May that any Kites started taking food, but only a few have turned up sporadically after that. Feeding continued throughout the winter of 2015-16, and then sporadically until the spring of 2017. The absence of Kites made it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain volunteers, and the project has now been abandoned.
The absence of Kites is a great surprise, given the large numbers that turn up at Gigrin farm, near Rhayader (mid-Wales), and that feed in gardens in Reading. As 10 of the 25 nests found in 2016 were within 10 kilometres or so of the Centre, and there are probably others as well, and there was a winter roost of over 30 within the same distance, it is surprising that there has been so little interest. It is not likely that they are put off by the nearby town or road, given how they feed in other parts of the country, so there must be an abundance of carrion in the surrounding countryside.
A similar monitoring report for the adjacent area of East Powys (Radnorshire), and other information, can be found on the Welsh Kite Trust’s new website www.welshkitetrust.wales.
Thanks to Michelle Frater, Chris Parr, Dave Pearce and Vince Downs for helping find and monitor the nests,
to Dave Pearce for monitoring the winter roost sites,
and to Tony Cross for ringing and tagging the chicks.
Thanks to Stuart Jones, Julie Kavanagh and Jim Logan for reporting nests.
Thanks too to John Harding, Dom Kavanagh, Andrew Fusek Peters and Dawn Balmer
for permission to use the photos.
Skujina, I. 2013. Population genetics of an endangered bird of prey: the Red Kite in Wales. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Philosophy, Aberystwyth University, 2013.