Northern Ireland red kites

The red kite became extinct in Ireland more than 200 years ago, so in 2008 we embarked on the first species reintroduction in Northern Ireland to bring them back. Ten years on, there are now around 20 breeding pairs in Northern Ireland.

Red kite Milvus milvus, swooping in to feed on ground, Oxfordshire

Overview

Over the past 200 years the UK red kite population dwindled, largely due to human persecution, until only a small population remained in mid-Wales. Since 1989 a number of reintroduction projects have begun to restore the red kite to its former range across the UK. These have successfully led to the re-establishment of breeding populations in these release areas.
 
During this time the Welsh population has naturally recovered and was estimated at around 900 pairs in 2009.
 
It is highly likely the red kite occurred as a breeding bird in Northern Ireland until the mid-18th century. Due to the momentum and experience gained from recent successful reintroductions in England and Scotland, the stage was set for this large-scale species recovery project to be rolled out in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, first in County Wicklow in 2007 and then in County Down in 2008 as it was unlikely red kites would naturally re-colonise here in the near future.

Objectives

  • To create a self-sustaining red kite population in Northern Ireland and contribute to attaining a more favourable conservation status for this species.
  • To raise public awareness about red kites and birds of prey in order to reduce the perceived threat of these birds, especially within the local community where the reintroduction took place.
  • To inspire people by successfully reintroducing a beautiful bird to a country where it was once lost and to let people appreciate their splendour once again.

Progress

  • June 2008: The first collection visit to Wales to collect the donor stock for Northern Ireland Red Kites reintroduction project with partners Welsh Kite Trust and Golden Eagle Trust. A total of 27 kite chicks were collected.
  • July 2008: All 27 red kites were successfully released into County Down in the first of three years of the release programme. This is the first species reintroduction project ever carried out in Northern Ireland.
  • July 2009: A further 26 red kites relocated from Wales.
  • July 2010: Five red kites successfully fledge from four nests in County Down. All parent birds were those released in 2008. This is the first time this has happened in more than two centuries.
  • July-August 2010: Final release of 27 red kites takes place.
  • June 2011: Phase two of Northern Ireland Red Kites begins.
  • July 2011: Eight red kite chicks reared from five nests in County Down, including a nest with triplets, another first for Northern Ireland Red Kites.
  • July 2012: 15 chicks fledge from 10 successful nests.
  • Spring 2013: For the first time, a red kite which was born and reared here was confirmed to be breeding. The bird, known as Brown/White 34, was found to have bred at a site on the southern edges of the Mournes. Another 13 nests were also located and, of these, 17 chicks fledged successfully from seven nests.
  • Summer 2014: 16 territorial pairs of red kites were located in 2014 and eight of these pairs were successful, fledging 16 chicks.
  • Summer 2015: 12 territorial pairs were found with 7 of these pairs successfully fledging 13 chicks.
  • Summer 2016: 21 territorial pairs located - 11 of these pairs fledged 21 chicks.
  • Spring 2017: RSPB NI successfully secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and local councils for a three - year project called RKites. 
  • Summer 2017: 20 pairs were found with 13 of these fledging 28 chicks, the highest number of chicks to date.

Planned Work

RKites Project

Phase 2 of Northern Ireland Red Kites came to an end in June 2014. Although no further releases are planned, we will continue to closely monitor the progress of the red kite population amid the ongoing threat of wildlife crime and we’ll keep working to raise awareness of these wonderful birds. 
 
The RSPB also aims to raise the public’s knowledge and awareness of these majestic birds of prey, which will include working with stakeholders, landowners and the general public in the area.

For the 2018 breeding season the RKites project plans to set up a nest camera to give people a unique insight into the lives of one of our most beautiful birds of prey.

To encourage more people to get out and see red kites, there are plans to install information panels at strategic locations to give people the opportunity of seeing the birds in their natural environment.

The red kite project officer and volunteers will continue to closely monitor the progress of the red kite population and work to raise awareness of these wonderful birds amid the ongoing threat of wildlife crime.

This exciting three-year project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and supported by the Mourne Heritage Trust and the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, will engage the public to take ownership of these marvellous birds, ensuring their continued conservation.

RKites will build on the relationships established in previous years and strengthen the link between people and red kites, working with landowners and local residents. The project will engage with over 40 schools in the two council areas to educate students about our red kites and the threats they face, hold public talks and recruit volunteers who will assist in monitoring and recording our red kite populations.


How can I help?

Report red kite sightings

If you see a red kite we would be interested in hearing about your sighting. Sightings where wing tags are read are most helpful, however, even sightings of untagged kites or where the tags could not be read are also useful. Please take note of the date, time and location of your sighting, wing tag colours and markings and what the bird/s were doing and email redkiteni@rspb.org.uk.


Organise an educational visit

The RKites Project Officer or a red kite volunteer can visit schools or organisations to give a talk about red kites in Northern Ireland with information on identification, diet, habitat and games for primary school children. To enquire about a visit e mail redkiteni@rspb.org.uk or call the red kite project officer on 07527 665 668.


Adopt a Red Kite 

Schools and other organisations can adopt a red kite, with the opportunity to name their allocated red kite and receive an adoption certificate and a red kite fact sheet. For further information contact redkiteni@rspb.org.uk or call the project officer on 07527 665668

Funding

RSPB NI is grateful to The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)Newry, Mourne and Down District CouncilArmagh, Banbridge Craigavon Borough Council for funding the RKites Project and for the support and assistance from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and the Mourne Heritage Trust.

Phases 1 and 2 of the project were funded by Ulster Wildlife Trust's Landfill Communities Fund grant shceme provided by Down, Newry and Mourne, and Banbridge Councils and Quinn Environmental Ltd, Ernest Kleinwort Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Heritage Council and Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Additional support was received from NI Electricity and RES Ltd.
 

Red Kite Runner

Find out about how the Northern Ireland red kite reintroduction got underway.

Robert Straughan, RSPB Northern Ireland's Red kite project officer, talks about the RSPB's efforts to protect the red kite.

Play video
Red kite runner video screenshot

NI Red Kite Leaflet

PDF, 4.4MB

Red Kite Leaflet
Tagged with: Country: Northern Ireland Species: Red kite Project status: Ongoing Project types: Species protection