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Red kites buck the European trend

Scotland’s population of red kites is bucking the trend of Europe-wide declines in the species.

Numbers on the bird’s main wintering grounds have halved since 1994 and there have been big falls in the number of breeding pairs in its heartlands of Spain, France and Germany. However, there are now estimated to be 149 breeding pairs in Scotland thanks to a re-introduction programme and a successful partnership between conservationists and landowners. This compares with an estimated 122 pairs in 2008. The UK as a whole is now home to 7% of the world’s red kites – up from five per cent only a year ago.

The Scottish population of kites has also been displaying unusual dispersal patterns, with birds regularly recorded as travelling hundreds of miles during the winter months. Juvenile kites are routinely fitted with wing tags at the nest, making them easy to identify, and their sociability means that travellers frequently join with groups of other kites at feeding stations or roost sites around the country.

Jenny Lennon, RSPB Scotland Red Kite Project Officer, said: “This winter, the kites have been moving around so fast that it’s been difficult keeping up with them!

“We’ve got one of our kites from the Aberdeen re-introduction project visiting Northern Ireland at the moment, and down at Argaty near Stirling, they’ve had a visit from two kites from a nest near Tain in Easter Ross, the most northern kite territory in Scotland. Northern kites have also been recorded on the Galloway Kite Trail in the far south of Scotland. It’s incredible how much they move around.”

Although the exact reason for these journeys is unclear, it is thought that it may relate to the genetic origins of the birds, many of which were introduced here from Sweden where there is a migratory population.

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