This is the first in what will, obviously, be a weekly feature. The Monday Bird of the Week (MBW). First up is the Red Kite (Milvus milvus).
Since moving to Leeds, I’ve been entranced by the presence of these magnificent birds in the skies around our house. The birds were introduced at Harewood House near Leeds in 1999, and have spread across North Leeds, across to York, and further into the North East.
The first time I saw a Red Kite was over 20 years ago in Wales. We saw it as a kite-shaped dark speck in the sky, and never saw another. The population had been so badly devasted by ill-thought persecution by landowners, and by a landscape with less carrion, that they were on the verge of extinction. To now see them filling the skies is a never-ending source of delight.
They are a little misunderstood though. I had an argument recently with a woman who was worried about “these massive eagles” taking pet dogs, even human babies! This isn’t going to happen, for several reasons.
Firstly, a Red Kite just isn’t powerful enough to take such prey. Even a Golden Eagle would struggle. But the second, and main, reason not to be worried is that they are predominantly scavengers. If they do take prey, it tends to be earthworms (though if a small mammal does present itself, they will oblige). They’re such a good cleaner-up that in some parts of India their local name translates to ‘sanitation worker’. Sadly, they are still frequent victims of illegal poisoning by people who consider them, wrongly, a threat.
So, as the Kites move closer to being a presence in Leeds City centre, we should celebrate their success. Cars produce plenty of carrion on our roads, and the Kites can do a great job keeping things clean.