Eyes on the skies: RSPB NI appeals to public for red kite sightings

RSPB NI is asking members of the public to report sightings of majestic red kites as the 2021 breeding season gets underway.

Red kite pictured in Co Down this year. Picture: Mike McLaughlin
Red kite pictured in Co Down this year. Picture: Mike McLaughlin
Red kite pictured in Co Down this year. Picture: Mike McLaughlin

With 2020 figures indicating the highest number of red kite nests since the birds of prey were reintroduced in 2008 and over 400 sightings last year, the nature conservation charity is asking the public across Northern Ireland to keep their eyes to the skies and report sightings of these distinctive reddish brown birds with black wingtips, silver grey heads and slender wings. They can measure up to five and half feet in length and have a distinctive V-shaped forked tail – unlike buzzards, which have a fanned tail.

Although Co Down remains the hot-spot for these striking birds, they have been seen all over Northern Ireland in recent years – on the north coast in Co Antrim and out west in Fermanagh.
Neal Warnock, RSPB NI senior conservation officer, said: “Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing a red kite will know how stunning these birds are. At this time of year, they can be seen displaying and nest building.
“Red kite sightings from members of the public are incredibly valuable in highlighting new territories we may not already know about. Last year we received more than 400 sightings emails from volunteers and members of the public.
“So if you are out walking in and around Castlewellan, Katesbridge, Moneyslane or Ballyward in Co Down, or spending time in the Mournes as ‘stay local’ restrictions ease, please let us know if you spot any red kites.”
Red kite sightings can be logged by emailing [email protected].
People are asked to include the date, time and location of their sightings and, if visible, the wing tag colours and the wing tag letter or number combination.
Staff from the conservation charity were unable to monitor red kites in the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 restrictions, but information from members of the public and volunteers who were able to look out for kites close to their homes during the first lockdown indicated that there were at least 24 nests in Co Down; this would be the highest number recorded since they were reintroduced to Northern Ireland over a decade ago.
The raptors were sadly persecuted to extinction more than 200 years ago because people mistakenly saw them as a threat to game and livestock.

In 2008, RSPB NI joined forces with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species to Northern Ireland’s skies.

Over two years, dozens of young red kites were released into Co Down and every year since 2010 the birds have produced their own chicks.
Most red kites in Northern Ireland have been fitted with a small brown tag on their left wing and a coloured tag for year of birth on their right wing to help with individual identification. Once restrictions eased towards the end of last summer, a small number of nests were visited so that wing-tags could be fitted to red kite chicks.
This year, if restrictions allow, RSPB NI staff and volunteers will monitor existing and new territories and look for new nest sites, while it is also hoped that more wing-tagging can be carried out this summer.
The RSPB has been operating in Northern Ireland for over 50 years to inspire a world richer in nature. The charity has more than 11,000 members, around 60 employees, 300 volunteers and 10 reserves.

The conservation charity’s work with red kites is part of RKites, a partnership project with a dedicated public engagement programme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, RSPB NI, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Armagh City, Banbridge ands Craigavon Borough Council, with support from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and the Mourne Heritage Trust.
Red kite sightings can be reported to RSPB NI by emailing: [email protected].