Some residents of our estate might have seen a large bird of prey circling overhead and then gracefully glide away into the distance without the slightest flap of the wings. If you noticed a long forked tail and black wing tips it’s a good chance you have just seen a red kite. Almost extinct in the UK just 30 years ago they are now a common sight over Isleworth.
I helped protect the few remaining birds in Mid Wales in the 80s when there were just 12 breeding pairs left in a remote area of woodland. We guarded the nests on a 24 hour rota system and even the famous Gurkhas were involved to ward off egg collectors. That project kick-started a return of this beautiful raptor and in 1999 it was declared Bird Of The Century by the BTO and in 2006 the first Red Kite was seen over London.
While filming the famous puddle scene in The Vicar of Dibley on Paul Getty’s land, I watched 70 Red Kites go to roost while Dawn French was up to her neck in cold water.
In Shakespeare’s Winter Tales there is a line,
“When the Kite builds, look to lesser linen” this refers to the bird’s habit of stealing clothing from the washing line to add to its rather untidy nest of twigs.
The kite feeds mainly on carrion, road kill, worms and small mammals such as mice and voles; it’s not equipped to catch or kill song birds or large mammals. In Tudor times this bird was a common sight and protected by law, as it cleared the streets of rotting food and offal. A severe penalty was imposed on anyone who killed one. Sad to say they are still being poisoned and shot along with other birds of prey by farmers and gamekeepers.
If you would like any more information email Les firstname.lastname@example.org
The best place to see Red Kites is Henley on Thames or Turville, just off the M40- this is the location for the fictional village of Dibley.
A reminder, watch your linen! Les