Milvus Milvus, Red Kite, Wales

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The stunning Red Kite or Milvus milvus bird of prey, soaring high in deep blue sky above mid-Wales

In the United Kingdom Red Kites were once so common that William Shakespeare described London as " a city of Red Kites and Crows". As ubiquitous scavengers they lived on carrion and garbage, giving rise to their common name in Elizabethan England - Shitehawk. Shakespeare's King Lear describes his daughter Goneril as a detested kite, and he also wrote "when the kite builds, look to your lesser linen" in reference to them stealing washing that was hung out to dry during the nesting season. In the mid 15th century King James II of Scotland decreed that they should be "killed wherever possible", but they remained protected in England and Wales for the next 100 years as they kept the streets free of carrion and rotting food. Under Tudor "vermin laws" many creatures were seen as competitors for the produce of the countryside and bounties were paid by the parish for their carcasses.

By the 20th century the breeding population had become restricted to a handful of pairs in Wales, but recently the Welsh population has been supplemented by re-introductions in England and Scotland. In 2004, from 375 occupied territories identified at least 216 pairs were thought to have hatched eggs and 200 pairs reared at least 286 young. In 1989 six Swedish birds were released at a site in north Scotland and four Swedish and one Welsh bird in Buckinghamshire. Altogether, 93 birds of Swedish and Spanish origin were released at each of the sites. In the second stage of reintroduction in 1995 and 1996, further birds were brought over from Germany to populate the areas of Dumfries and Galloway, and the Derwent Valley in North East England. In Northern Ireland four pairs were released and in 2010 the first reproduction was recorded. The reintroductions in The Chilterns have been a particular success. Between 1989 and 1993 90 birds were released in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and by 2002, 139 pairs were breeding in the area. A sighting of the first Red Kite to be seen in London for 150 years was reported in The Independent newspaper in January 2006 and in June of that year, the UK-based Northern Kites Project reported that kites had bred in the Derwent Valley in and around Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear for the first time since the re-introduction.


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