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Last modified: 21 July 2008
After two centuries, red kites are now spreading their wings over Northern Ireland.
Image: The RSPB
A bird of prey extinct in Northern Ireland for at least two centuries is making a spectacular recovery as the first phase of a red kite reintroduction project began in southern County Down earlier today.
Northern Ireland Red Kites is the first species reintroduction in Northern Ireland and part of an All-Ireland project to bring back these exciting birds of prey to Northern Ireland. Project partners are the Welsh Kite Trust, the Golden Eagle Trust and the RSPB.
The project, which will release 27 kites this year, hopes to see these birds of global conservation concern become permanent residents in the rolling countryside of south Co Down.
Also today, more red kites took to the skies around Aberdeen, when Aberdeen’s Lord and Lady Provost released six birds of 35 gathered from nests around the UK. Today’s release in Scotland – part of the Aberdeen Red Kites Project - is the second year of a three-year reintroduction programme.
The Northern Ireland Red Kites project is the final piece in the jigsaw of red kite reintroductions across the UK and Ireland, where the return of this iconic species has proved to be one of the greatest conservation success stories of recent decades.
The RSPB worked with the Welsh Kite Trust to bring chicks from Wales – where conservation efforts and careful protection have succeeded in increasing the small population survive historical persecution. In a further boost to the population expansion in Ireland, the Golden Eagle Trust have also released Welsh chicks into the Co Wicklow countryside, south of Dublin, to supplement the 2007 reintroduction. This project is collaboration between conservation organisations in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Speaking after this morning’s launch in Co Down, Robert Straughan, RSPB Red Kite Officer said: 'This morning’s launch has been the culmination of a huge amount of work over this past number of years in order to make this project a reality.
'I have been looking after the birds prior to their release with important help from Forest Service and they are healthy and doing well. As they take their first flight in a new country the red kites should soon feel at home in the mixed woodland, farmland and rough grassland of south Co Down, as it offers ideal habitat for the birds.
'People will be able to easily identify red kites with their rusty-red colouring, forked tail, white patches under each wing and inky black wing tips, not to mention their five-and-a-half-feet wingspan.'
'Red kites have been absent from the skies of Northern Ireland for more than 200 years... the RSPB is very proud to assist the global recovery of this beautiful bird'
Kites, which will be the largest bird of prey to nest in Northern Ireland, are opportunistic scavengers; to conserve energy they feed mostly on worms and small dead animals, which they can see from a great height. They are a large bird, but are not designed to feed on mobile prey, so are not a threat to livestock, gamebirds or songbirds.
Robert Straughan added: 'Red kites have been absent from the skies of Northern Ireland for more than 200 years because of historical persecution and the RSPB is very proud to assist the global recovery of this beautiful bird - a species of global conservation concern.
'Not only is this an exciting and important conservation project, but it could also provide a tremendous tourist boost to the local economy in the Mournes area. The red kite has become a conservation success story from the north of Scotland to the south of England, and the UK population now stands at over 1,000 breeding pairs.
'It is our belief that the Northern Ireland Red Kite Reintroduction Project will provide a similar outcome for conservation and for the benefit of local people.'
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