We have been following the movements of satellite-tagged red kites and buzzards in Northern Ireland through the Hawk-Eyes project (Home). You may remember one red kite we have been tracking nicknamed ‘Kevin’ by Hawk-Eyes supporter and fundraiser Dara McAnulty (Introducing ‘Kevin’). Thanks to satellite-tracking we know that Kevin has very much been a ‘home bird’ since fledging in Co. Down in 2019.
We began to grow concerned in April 2021 when Kevin’s movement reduced unexpectedly. Concerns for his welfare increased when he was stationary for a large part of the time over several consecutive days. The RSPB red kite officer was informed and, suspecting the worse, headed out on a search of the area…
Imagine our surprise to find not only was Kevin paired up with a second red kite at a nest site, but he also sitting incubating the eggs! We mistakenly thought Kevin was a male when we first wing tagged him back in 2019! Kevin, who we now know is a female kite, was breeding at only two years old, and had picked a cracker of a nest site; a huge old raven’s nest at the top of a 30m high monkey-puzzle tree.
Kevin produced two fantastic chicks! They were a late brood in the year so when we arrived to wing-tag them in mid-June they were still too small for patagial wing-tags but both chicks received a metal leg ring. The visiting of the nest site and ringing of the chicks was carried out under licences from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the British Trust for Ornithology.
Unfortunately we received information at the beginning of August 2021 that one of the red kite chicks, only a few months old, was found dead in a garden near Castlewellan. Given the suspicious finding circumstances the red kite was suspected poisoned and the finder reported if to the police by calling ‘101’. The PSNI retrieved the bird and sent it for testing in a specialised laboratory at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Dundonald. They found that the bird had a high level of rodenticides (rat poison) in its liver and that although this didn’t kill the bird directly, it may have contributed to its death. There were also injuries believed to be consistent with a collision with the windscreen of a car. Secondary rodenticide poisoning, caused by eating poisoned animals, is extremely prevalent in red kites and can eventually them , but sub-lethal doses may affect a bird’s reflexes and mobility which may explain how this bird was hit by a vehicle. This was actually the second red kite reported killed on the road in 2021. Imagine the shock of driving along and hitting a red kite with your car!
Kevin went on to spend the autumn and winter 2021/2022 in Co. Down, largely in an area of rolling countryside south of Slieve Croob, popular with many of the red kites.
We are delighted to report that Kevin went on to nest again in 2022, at a site 2.3km from that used in 2021. The ravens whose old nest the red kites had used in 2021 had turned up and wanted it back in early spring! The new nest was in a beautiful mature oak tree surrounded by arable farmland owned by very supportive farmers, and the birds were left to nest in peace.
The pair had one chick very very late in the season, it was still tiny when we turned up to wing-tag it in June! Finally, after a long summer of fieldwork, Kevin’s nest was the last to get checked in mid-July 2022. The single chick was a big bruiser by this stage and we are over the moon to be able to tell you that, thanks to additional support from donors to the Hawk-Eyes project ,we were able to satellite tag Kevin’s chick. This will give us incredible insight into the relationship and interaction between adults and chicks as they age. And, in continuing the whole circular theme, who was able to attend the tagging but none other than Dara McAnulty who donated the funds to purchase Kevin’s tag way back in 2019!