Movements – The early days

It’s been four weeks now since the birds which were tagged as chicks in their nests fledged, to make their way in the world. For obvious reasons we haven’t blogged until the chicks were well away from their nest sites but since they have started moving the records coming in from the GPS-GSM tags has been incredible.

For now we will concentrate on 4 birds, all red kites, all born in 2019 and tagged as young birds in the nest.

This is the map of movements of these individuals between mid-July and mid-August…and to say that none of us could have anticipated the movements is an understatement! We have overlaid the movements with the hot spot map of known areas of raptor persecution between 2009 and 2018.

The first few weeks of movements of juvenile red kites tagged in Northern Ireland, overlaid with the hot spot map of raptor persecution incidents 2009-2018

Whilst 1 bird has not gone very far at all (dark blue track), the other three have been ranging widely.

One bird (pink track) has explored much of Co. Down, from Dundrum, Ballynahinch, Crossgar, Donaghadee, Balinderry and Newry. Another bird (green track) left the Mournes and headed for the Antrim Glens via Ballyclare. It has circled the entire Antrim Hills, heading to Torr Head before heading back south via Bushmills to Ballymena and back towards Glenarm.

The final bird (turquoise) wins the award so far for distance travelled! After a short trip to Co. Monaghan, it travelled through the Sperrins, and then spent a few days circumnavigating Inishowen, Co. Donegal. After a week it ‘turned on its heels’ came back through the Sperrins and made its way to the centre of Ireland, around Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.

The information provided by GPS tags is invaluable in understanding the movements of birds throughout their life. Observations of red kites and buzzards have long shown that young birds generally explore in the months after fledging, before returning to natal nest sites, a phenomenon known as ‘natal philopatry’ – the birds return to the familiar to set up a safe nest site in their second or third calendar year. Red kites in particular are known to not travel far, hence the need for a reintroduction programme to help boost population spread. However, it is also known that young birds meet other young birds in their first winter and can roost communally. Both red kites and buzzards are very social birds…when there is no drive to protect the nesting territory and vulnerable young that is! But prior to the advent of GPS technology ecologists have relied on traditional marking techniques, such a leg rings, and later patagial wing-tags however all traditional techniques have one major flaw, they depend on people reporting sightings! With the GPS tags the data comes direct to the researcher.

These tracks are a reminder that in conservation we may talk about ‘our Northern Ireland birds’, or the ‘population in Northern Ireland’, but these animals have no borders, protection in one area isn’t enough. We need EVERYBODY to understand the importance of birds of prey to the balance of the natural world and to PROTECT them from illegal killing

These birds are natural feeders of dead animals. They are our equivalent of vultures, the dustmen of the countryside, and they will find and consume poisoned baits, whether they are the intended target or not. IT IS ILLEGAL TO LEAVE POISONS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE. Please call PSNI if you see any suspicious behaviour or baits in the countryside (see the blog ‘Things to look out for‘).

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