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Fri23rd Nov 2007

Kite Locations
Since September the kites have strongly favoured one area of land in particular. This land is mainly one large privately owned farm. The farmer being well disposed towards the kites has given me free access to his lands for the purpose of monitoring the kites. The dominant habitats are improved grassland for grazing and large cereal fields. The exact area the kites tend to utilise most heavily is a hill on this farm. The kites are generally to be found on either side of this hill depending on the wind direction. On a good breezy day a large proportion of the kites (10+) can be found here, and they generally offer excellent views. The other local kites can often be seen in smaller numbers on the open farmland in the surrounding area.

During October another two kites dispersed from the area. There have been no confirmed sightings of any of the missing kites within the last three months. Currently there are at least twenty-four kites in the general release area. See table for update on individual birds.

Kite Feeding
There are currently three feeding platforms set up for the kites. Meat, generally in the form of venison, is left out on these for the kites. To date I have yet to witness any kites feeding at these sites since they left the release area. They do attract large numbers of crows and occasional buzzards. Kites have been seen in the vicinity of them and so I presume they are aware of them.

The lack of attendance of the kites at the feeding platforms presumably indicates that they are finding ample amounts of food for themselves. Five kites were seen feeding on two rabbit carcasses that were left on the farm that they frequent most heavily. The kites can often be seen feeding on the reseeded cereal fields in this farm. As the current crop is still very small, the bare earth is easily accessible to the kites. I assume that a large proportion of what I see them catching are invertebrates, one food item was positively identified as an earthworm. On another occasion an observer witnessed a kite catching a small rodent but was unable to identify it to any greater level of detail.

Communal roost
Since late October the communal roosts have become more evident. Currently individual birds may start appearing at the roost site by 3pm. In windy weather the kites are far more active at the roost, this phenomenon is well recorded elsewhere. On a good windy evening the roost offers great viewing. I have seen at least fourteen kites in a flock together engaging in pre-roost behaviour. This generally involves a lot of chasing and mock fighting.

The roost also offers the best location to check on the presence or absence of individual kites. Currently twenty-one signals can routinely be picked up at the roost. There are also three kites that I have seen in the area that have either dropped their radios or the radios have stopped working.

Kite Incidents
On the first of October Kite purple & sky blue N, which was previously seen in Killarney by Allan Mee (White Tailed Eagle Project Manager), was picked up a farmer in Leitrim. The farmer found the bird at the side of the road in a weakened condition. It was suspected that the bird had been poisoned with alphachloralose and was treated as such. The bird was taken into care by Martin Maloney, a falconer with lots of experience in rehabilitating birds of prey. Micheal Casey, a vet with the Sligo Regional Lab, took blood and faecal samples from the bird for analysis. From these samples it was confirmed that the bird had been poisoned by alphachloralose. The bird was brought back to Wicklow and released on the 15th October in the vicinity of the other kites. It was later seen at the communal roost with the others.

Unfortunately the story of kite purple & sky blue N doesn't end there. On the 9th of November it was found dead on a railway line. It had apparently been hit by a train. As a large number of pheasant are killed on this stretch of railway the presumption is that it was hit while feeding on a carcass. Kites being killed when feeding on road or rail kill is not uncommon. The kite's corpse was brought to the Dept. of Agriculture laboratory in Celbridge for a full post mortem. I am still awaiting the results.

Kite Sexing
Sexing of the kites was carried out by analysis of blood samples by Dr. Jamie Coughlan, University College Cork. The results confirmed that we had collected fifteen males and fifteen females.

First Kite released in Ireland
Mon19th Nov 2007

A Red Kite, released in county Wicklow on the 19th of July, was found and rescued by a Leitrim Sheep farmer on the October 1st. The farmer, Michael Torsney, found the bird which was in a very weak condition, at dawn on a road verge near his farm. Michael brought the bird home and put it under a heat lamp, normally used for the care of newborn lambs. Michael’s course of action undoubtedly saved the Red Kite. Blood and faecal samples were taken from the bird by the Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory and sent for toxicology analysis. It seems quite likely the bird was poisoned by Alphachloralose, which causes hypothermia in those birds and mammals that digest it. Michael contacted the telephone number on the underside of the kite’s purple wing tag, used to identify each individual. The bird has made a full recovery and was released today back in County Wicklow.

The kite, known as Purple N, was one of 30 Red Kites that were released in County Wicklow as part of the Red Kite Reintroduction programme. The project, managed by the Golden Eagle Trust Ltd, The National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust, aims to restore this native Irish bird to Ireland. Most birds have remained close to the release area and have been seen feeding on numerous silage fields and recently harvested arable fields - foraging for worms and insects. However, Red Kite N, was more nomadic. It was last seen in the Wicklow release area on the 27th of July. By the 27th of August it was seen along the Smerlagh river, 5km outside Listowel, County Kerry, over 250km away. It stayed in this area of farmland until at least the 21st of September. On the 26th of September it was recorded outside Kinlough, in County Leitrim, having moved over another 270km in less than 5 days. Michael Torsney recovered the bird outside Dromahair, a short distance away, 5 days later, on the 1st of October.

The Golden Eagle Trust Ltd (GET), who is managing the Red Kite Project, arranged to take the bird back into captivity for rehabilitation. It was noted the stricken bird still had crow feathers in its talons. Alphachloralose poisoning is still a legally used poison, widely available in Chemists and Farm supply shops. It is used to control mice, rats, Hooded Crows and Magpies. It is likely that someone was targeting crows with Alphachloralose and poisoned the Kite unintentionally. The bird was transported in a heated cage to a bird of prey specialist in Buncrana. The bird was extremely weak at this stage, but a solution of fluids and salts delivered by feeding tube helped revive the bird. Once returned to full health the bird was transported back to Wicklow for release on the 15th of October. The kite was released next to the Red Kite communal roost and will hopefully settle down with the main groups over the winter.

Birds of prey such as kites, buzzards and eagles are extremely prone to poisoning, as they will readily scavenge at poisoned meat baits. The Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle Project Steering teams and the GET have been lobbying for some time to have poisoned meat baits completely banned, due to the risk of indiscriminate poisoning of protected birds and mammals. Non-meat baits could still be used to control the correct target species or preferably other non-toxic control methods could be employed.

Indeed, one of the reasons why County Wicklow was chosen as the Red Kite release area, was because of its healthy Buzzard population – indicating that the use of poisoned meat baits in Wicklow is comparatively low. Buzzards have yet to establish a strong foothold in Sligo, Leitrim or Roscommon, though they are widespread in Donegal, Fermanagh and Monaghan. A pair of Buzzards- were reportedly shot in French Forest Park, Roscommon, a few years ago, with the culprits boasting in nearby Boyle that they had shot a pair of Golden Eagles roosting in trees one evening. And though a pair of Buzzards was confirmed breeding in Sligo this season, the risk of poisoning and shooting remain the main threat to our native birds of prey.

One of the Wicklow Red Kites was recently shot in County Wicklow and there was widespread anger at the incident locally. Declan O Neill, Chairman of the Wicklow IFA said, “From a farming point of view these birds are absolutely no threat and do no damage….We think these are beautiful animals and the birds are an asset to the county from a tourist point of view. The incident is a real tragedy… we certainly condemn it”. The National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC), the national body representing the shooting community in Ireland, said it has supported the project from the outset. Director, Des Crofton, was “horrified” and said “he unreservedly condemned it”.

The Golden Eagle Trust Limited said, “We are very grateful to Michael Torsney, (the Leitrim farmer) for his decisive and quick response to this incident- Michael undoubtedly saved this kite from a slow death. We would also like to take this opportunity to ask all gun clubs and landowners to exercise extreme caution while laying poison in the open countryside. Under the Wildlife Amendment Act (2000), the local Garda Station must be informed in writing if poison is to be laid and poison warning notices must be erected nearby, as poisons do pose a risk to children, pets and sheep dogs also. We would ask everyone not to use poison meat baits – poison is indiscriminate and one cannot tell what will eat the bait and consume the toxins. With the huge national effort to restore Red Kites, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles, alongside an expanding Buzzard population, we believe it is high time these poisoning regulations were reviewed and amended. For example, while it is currently legal to poison Hooded Crows and Magpies, it is illegal to poison Rooks and Jackdaws, highlighting the flaws in this regulation. Birds of prey are natural predators of young crows, magpies and foxes and it is quite possible that the loss of so many native birds of prey has allowed our crow population to become so numerous.

Releasing the rescued kite
Tue21st Aug 2007

Kite Collection

Thirty kite chicks were collected from Mid Wales during June. The collection was facilitated by our partners the Welsh Kite Trust. The collection and transport of the chicks to Ireland took thirteen days in total. There was a gap of five days between the first visit and the second visit, this time was to allow the kites and me to settle in. During my second visit to Wales, Ann Fitzpatrick, Conservation Ranger Wicklow Mountains National Park, looked after the kites in Ireland.

Pre release

The kites were transported by road and ferry from Rhayader in Wales to Wicklow, via Rosslare. The first batch of sixteen kites arrived in Ireland on the16th June. The second fourteen kites were brought to Ireland on the 23rd June.

All of the kites made the trip from Wales to Ireland without injury except one. On the arrival of the second batch of kites, one was discovered to be bleeding from a wound in its breast. This wound was probably picked up in the aviaries in Gigrin. It did not appear serious, so I placed the kite in the aviaries. On the following Monday morning (two days later) as it was still bleeding I brought it to the Veterinary Practice in Bray. Bairbre O’Malley, the vet there, has extensive experience of working with birds of prey. No wound was found and the bird was placed back in the aviary after 24 hours. The bird showed no further signs of injury and was released with the others. What had appeared as extensive bleeding to me, was actually quite minimal according to the vet. She explained that birds have high blood pressure and can therefore bleed quite profusely from the smallest of injuries.

While in the release pens the kites were fed a diet primarily of rabbit and crow. Some venison, fox, stoat, squirrel, pheasant, fish and pigeon was also fed to them. All the food items fed to the kites were lead free. Items were in some cases shot with steel shot, which would be the preference. Others were shot with standard lead bullets; the wound area in these food items was removed and discarded. All the corvids were larsen trapped by gamekeepers or shooting club members. The protected species were collected as road kill. Fish and stoat seemed unpopular with the kites as a food item, it is my opinion that rabbit was the favoured food item.

All the kites had blood samples taken for health screening and sexing. These were taken by Michael Casey a Veterinary Officer with the Dept. of Agriculture. Michael is also a bird ringer and has assisted the GET in the past with the Golden Eagles. The blood samples have been sent to University College Cork for sexing. The Dept. of Agriculture tested all birds for avian influenza; they were all given a full clean bill of health.

On the 16th and 17th of July the kites were fitted with Patagial wing tags and tail mounted radios. Brian Etheridge, Scottish Raptor Monitoring Officer, attended these fitting sessions to instruct and assist in the fitting. From the biometrics taken, Brian estimated we had thirteen females and seventeen males.

Each kite was fitted with two different coloured wing tags. Left wing colour denotes area code; right wing tag colour denotes year of release. Our release colour is pale blue; the year code for 2007 is purple. Each tag this year carries a letter, the letter is black on the blue tag and white on the purple tag. The letters are “case sensitive” i.e. a and A are two different birds. We are following the same year codes as proposed by the UK red kite steering group.

Post Release

On the 19th July twenty eight of the kites were released. Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, attended this release. Two kites were held back to allow their tail feathers to finish growing so the radios could be attached. These two were released two weeks later.

At present up to twenty-five kites can be located in the general release area. A number of these birds have left the area for periods of up to two weeks but have always returned. Some of them have been located during these absences at distances of up to 8km away. Three kites dispersed from the release areas after two weeks and I have not seen them since. Kite “W” lost his radio tag after week one. The entire feather that the tag is attached to was located in a field by the release area. While this isn’t very common it does happen occasionally.

Two of the missing kites have been located outside of Wicklow. Kite “L” has been reported in Antrim, the specific location is unknown to me. Kite “N” was last located in Kerry, near Listowell. Kite “N” has been seen by both Allan Mee, White Tailed Eagle Project Manager, and Barry O’Donoghoe, Ranger with NPWS.

At present the general habitats that the kites are favouring are primarily, stubble fields, silage fields and freshly ploughed fields. They also feed in fields of improved grassland. The silage fields in the area were cut shortly after the release of the kites and proved very popular with them. While I have not been able to identify any prey they have caught, they have been seen walking around in all different types of fields picking at the ground, presumably for insects and worms. I have also witnessed the kites snatching prey from the ground without stopping. These items have then been eaten on the wing. Twice kites have been seen trying to flush buzzards from prey items. Neither of these attempts were successful, but in one case the kite did take the leftovers once the buzzard finished.

On Tuesday the 28th August while radio tracking, I discovered the body of a shot kite. The bird was kite “M”. The kite itself was located in a patch of uncultivated vegetation at the side of a large stubble field. It is my opinion that the bird was thrown there to hide it. The carcass seemed reasonably fresh and I would estimate that it had not been there for long, probably not more than twenty-four hours. The bird had been shot at reasonably close range with a shotgun. This was evident from a quick visual inspection but was confirmed by x-ray. It was decided by the GET to go public with the finding and the GET press release got excellent coverage on Thursday 30th August. It was in every National paper, got coverage on National and Local radio and even made it into the Washington Post!

The shooting of the kite was reported to the local Garda Station and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Public Opinion

I would say that local opinion towards the kites is very positive. All members of the farming community that I have spoken to have been positive. Many of them have had very close encounters with large numbers of kites while ploughing, cutting silage etc. None of the farmers spoken to have expressed any concerns and many have expressed their delight in seeing the birds. As the kites are travelling a little further afield more sightings are being reported.

Having spoken to all the farmers and a number of pigeon shooters, in the area I found the dead kite, and given their positive reactions the shooting of the kite in this area was completely unexpected. The locals all seem generally disappointed at the shooting. The landowner where the kite has been very supportive and has since revoked all shooting permissions on his land, this went out as a note in the Wicklow People.

No image available
Mon28th Aug 2006

A Red Kite, released in county Wicklow almost six weeks ago, was recovered dead on Tuesday (28/8/06). The corpse was located by radio tracking. Every Red Kite was fitted with a small radio transmitter, each with a unique radio frequency, prior to being released. The dead kite was x rayed and the bird contained 5-6 shotgun pellets alongside the obvious entry wound in its chest. The bird was shot between Sunday evening and Tuesday lunchtime and was recovered from a farm field north of Arklow in County Wicklow.

30 Red Kites were released in County Wicklow on the 19 July and have adapted well to the surrounding countryside over the last month. They have been seen feeding on numerous silage fields and recently harvested arable fields - foraging for worms and insects such as crane fly (Daddy Long legs). Local farmers, landowners and members of the shooting fraternity have been extremely supportive of the project to date. The National Association of Regional Gun Clubs are fully supportive of the project and have been reassured by their counterparts in Britain that Red Kites hold no threat to either game birds or livestock.

The Garda Síochána in Wicklow is currently investigating the matter. It is not yet known whether the bird was shot by accident or deliberately. All native birds of prey, including released Red Kites, are fully protected in the Republic of Ireland under Section 22 of the Wildlife Act (1976) and by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act (2000). Under the European Union’s Birds Directive, Red Kites are listed as an Annex I species and are therefore given the highest level of protection under European law.

This is a major disappointment for the Golden Eagle Trust Ltd (GET), which is managing the project in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust. The GET Project Manager Damian Clarke said, “Obviously, after all the hard work and support for the project in Wicklow, nationally and in Wales, it is very worrying to recover a shot kite so soon after they have been released. But I must stress that the level of support from all the local farmers, landowners and local gun clubs and shooting syndicates has been excellent. Red Kites were driven to extinction in Ireland previously due to shooting, trapping and poisoning and the Wicklow project’s success will ultimately depend on the continuing support and goodwill of the local community. We would again ask for all people shooting quarry species in Wicklow and Leinster to be fully aware that they may come in contact with Red Kites. We hope that all landowners can advise people shooting on their property that Red Kites must be left unmolested. These species are fully protected by the law and it is illegal to shoot Red Kites, by mistake or otherwise”.

“Despite this early setback, we are still confident that we can re-establish a viable breeding population in Wicklow and that in time, through our on going awareness campaign, that the Red Kite will become a cherished part of Wicklow’s beautiful landscape and will gradually become an added attraction for Wicklow tourism. It is very unfortunate that we should recover a shot kite during National Heritage week – it once again highlights the importance that everyone needs to play a role in protecting Ireland’s natural and cultural Heritage.”


• The Red Kite is so called because of its reddish brown body and tail. Its tail is deeply forked making it an easily recognisable bird. Kites have a wingspan of up to 1.8m

• Kites normally breed in their second or third year. They build stick nests in trees, their nests are lined with wool. Prior to laying, kites often decorate their nests with scraps of cloth and paper, prompting Shakespeare to write in A Winters Tale “When the kite builds, look to lesser linen”. They lay 2-3 eggs. We would expect breeding in Ireland by 2010.

• The Irish name for the Red Kite is An Préachan Ceirteach, the “Cloth Kite”. This name is derived from the habit of stealing cloths mentioned above.

• Kites take a very wide range of prey. Carrion is an important part of the diet in winter. Kites also primarily take small mammals, crows, insects and worms. Due to their small feet and weak beaks, kites are not particularly powerful predators.

• The Kite was once a common bird throughout Britain and Ireland. Habitat loss and heavy persecution drove it to extinction in all parts of Ireland and Britain except the remote uplands of Wales, where at one point there were just two known breeding pairs. Today due to the efforts of conservationists, farmers and landowners there is a population of around 600 breeding pairs in Wales alone.

• The continued fortunes of the Red Kite in Wales are monitored and researched by a small dedicated charity, The Welsh Kite Trust

The NARGC, the National body representing the shooting community in Ireland, have supported this project from the outset. When contacted today, the Director, Des Crofton was horrified to learn of the incident and unreservedly condemned it.


Damian Clarke,
Red Kite Project Manager
Golden Eagle Trust Ltd
Tel: 086 3284463
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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