The first of the red kites we are tracking has been officially named. ‘Kevin’ was named by Dara McAnulty, after St. Kevin of Glendalough, who loved all birds and animals and is the patron saint of blackbirds. Dara, also known as ‘Naturalist Dara’, along with his mum Roisin, raised over £6000 for the Hawk-Eyes project by walking 45km along the Cuilcagh Way in Co. Fermanagh on a ‘Ramble for Raptors’ in the depths of winter (see earlier blog here). Without this funding we would never know about Kevin’s movements, his survival, his interaction with other kites and his usage of our countryside.
Kevin was one of a brood of two chicks fledged from a nest site in Co. Down in July 2019. Kevin is largely a ‘homebird’, having spent most of the last eight months in Co. Down. He has largely spent his time between Castlewellan and Banbridge, with the occasional excursions to Comber, Portaferry and Donaghadee. He has also been to Slieve Gullion for a visit, and even once crossed the Mournes to visit Kilkeel (for a day).
In the past two weeks Kevin has felt something stirring in him (perhaps it was the changing of the clocks) and he left the Castlwellan area on 26th March to head south-west, crossing Carlingford Lough on a direct trajectory for Co. Offaly. By 18:30 on the same day Kevin had travelled 112km, stopping south of Rhode in north Co. Offaly. From then until the 31st March we were concerned that he was injured because the signal was transmitting from the same 2km area, but on the afternoon of the 31st he travelled 16km north east into Co. Meath – before returning to where he had been roosting outside Rhode. Then on the 1st April between 11:30 and 15:30 he travelled 65km to Drogheda, Co. Louth and by 15:00 he was back in Northern Ireland, just outside Newry and by 4th April he was back at his favoured roost near Castlewellan!
Time will tell where Kevin decides to call home. Red kites usually breed at 2 or 3 years old1. We know from published studies that red kites can explore their surrounding widely in their first winter before settling somewhere in spring. Some young red kites attempt to hold territory in year one in the same site that they go on to use in later years and sometimes young red kites can hold a non-breeding territory in their first summer somewhere up to 30km away from where they end up breeding in later years2!
In small populations like in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where lots of suitable territories remain empty and there isn’t a huge choice of mates, younger birds may attempt to breed at one year old3,4 . So where will Kevin end up? And who will he end up with? If he was attempting to nest this year we would expect him to already be on territory already and helping to build a stick nest with his partner, with eggs being laid in the next few weeks. It certainly seems that Kevin’s mind is not on settling down any time soon!
1. Davis, P., Cross, A. & Davis, J. (2001). Movement, settlement, breeding and survival of red kites Milvus milvus marked in Wales. Welsh Birds, 3, 19–43
2. Newton, I., Davis, P.E. & Davis, J.E. (1989). Age of first breeding, dispersal and survival of red kites Milvus milvus in Wales. Ibis, 131, 16–21
3. Evans, I.M., Cordero, P.J. & Parkin, D.T. (1998). Successful breeding at one year of age by red kites Milvus milvus in southern England. Ibis, 140, 53–57
4. Orr-Ewing, D. (2007). Red kite. In The Birds of Scotland, ed. by R.W. Forrester, I.J. Andrews, C.J. McInerny, R.D. Murray, R.Y. McGowan, B. Zonfrillo, M.W. Betts, D.C. Jardine & D.S. Grundy. The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Aberlady. pp 448-450