National Bird of Wales | The Red Kites Fightback | 2020

In a hurry? Scroll down for Species Overview, Local History & Spotters Guide to the National Bird of Wales.

Did anyone else simply wake up one day, interested in bird watching? I don’t know quite how it happens.

Maybe there’s a chemical timer which starts ticking at birth, prepped to release the ‘twitcher’ hormone once you’ve reached what feels like a quintessentially British, hilariously mundane milestone in your path towards middle-age.

For me, it happened just as I finished up mucking out our two elderly horses one beautifully crisp April morning.

Having skipped breakfast in favour of shovelling three times my bodyweight in manure, I was understandably in no rush to get on with the litany of chores lined up for me around the farm. 

So, instead I decided it’d be a good idea to slump myself into a knackered old PVC chair for a few minutes. Tucked away in a particularly sunny corner of the yard, it’s the perfect place to drink in the precious Welsh sunlight while you’ve got the chance.

With the yard completely still, it wasn’t more than a minute before a plump little Robin came hopping along through the sunlight, his rosy cheeks picking away at the small piles of chaff left scattered across the concrete floor.

Before I knew it there were pockets of activity all around me. A beautifully yellow-breasted Wagtail came bobbing its way around the compost bin, hoovering up miniscule bugs as it worked its way musically across the yard. 

A Blackbird perched itself upon a gatepost just to the right of me, twirping something – I imagine – very important to anything within earshot which spoke Blackbird. Probably some kind of inside joke. 

For such a seemingly insignificant moment – Some guy, sitting in a rickety old PVC chair, seemingly staring blankly into the distance – This is such a vivid, warm memory to look back on. 

And it wouldn’t have been half the experience if it wasn’t for the excellent company / entertainment provided by those wonderful little creatures I had the pleasure to share the yard with on that crisp spring morning. 

My ‘twitcher’ timer well and truly went off that morning, with a thermo-nuclear explosion. There’s just something so magical, so meditative about just sitting and watching such a diverse, interesting group of animals going about their business.

So! While I’m no expert twitcher myself at this point, armed with this new found interest I started to delve into feather archives left and right in search of some knowledge. 

One aspect I found particularly fascinating was the idea of national birds. A culture’s tie to their national bird, what that means and how it came about, it just struck a chord with me. 

So we figured we’d put together a short series to start ourselves off, running through the national birds of the UK, and beginning with my (obviously biased) favourite – The National Bird of Wales. 

I hope you enjoy half as much as I did researching this thing. 


Species Overview

Welsh national bird red kite in flight snow

Family

The Red Kite is a member of the ‘Accipitridae’ family of birds, a family shared by Eagles, Harriers and Buzzards among other such ‘Raptor’ species. 

Distribution

Although primarily based throughout Europe, Red Kite populations have been found scattered as far south as Northern Africa, and as far north as Finland. In terms of habitat, Red Kites aren’t particularly fussy. 

Habitat

Broadleaf woodlands, wetlands and highland valleys have all been known to house thriving populations, while their distribution across a range of climates highlights their ability to adapt successfully to their surroundings. Talk about versatility. 

Hunting Habits

They predominantly hunt during daylight hours, focusing the majority of their attention on carrion, worms and small vertebrates. When compared to their sibling species’ the Red Kite’s legs are relatively weak, which is why if they’re forced to hunt live prey they will usually focus on small prey such as mice. 

Breeding

With regards to breeding characteristics, the Red Kite is a bit of an exception in its ability to breed successfully at only one year of age. Once paired individuals often remain monogamous throughout their up to 30-year lifespans.  

Clutch size usually varies between one and five eggs at a time, laid over a three day period. The laying season begins at various points in March, according to the local climate. Both parents play an active role in rearing the young once the ~30 day incubation period is over. 


Local History

Red Kite welsh national bird

The unofficially adopted national bird of Wales. In many ways a bird which chose us as it’s home in difficult times, rather than the other way around.

A truly beautiful creature that I’ve been lucky enough to share a hillside with plenty of times over the years, it’s a real eye-opener to think how close they were to the brink of extinction from the UK less than a century ago. 

Once a common sight across mainland Britain, the Red Kite’s almost 200 year long persecution very nearly led to a complete disappearance from our shores.

Why The Persecution?


Feeding predominantly on carrion, the Red Kite began to be looked upon as vermin during the 18th & 19th centuries.

A practice of culling on-sight slowly took hold, gradually spreading from city to city around the Uk until the few remaining Red Kites were forced to seek refuge in the least populated pockets of the country.

Fast forward to the 1930’s and only two breeding pairs were known to have survived – hidden away amongst the valleys of mid-wales. This once common bird had been nearly eradicated in a shockingly small amount of time.

The Red Kite Strikes Back


Thankfully, a groundswell of support slowly built among the local farmers and rural communities surrounding these few surviving pairs, allowing this majestic animal the chance to slowly rebuild its numbers. 

Things have gone from strength to strength ever since, with organisations such as the Welsh Kite Trust leading a small army of volunteers in the ongoing support of the national bird of Wales’ resurgent numbers.

As of 2020 there are at least 1000 active breeding pairs known of, with their numbers beginning to spread out from their historical safe zones and drift across much of mid & west wales. 

Populations have since been reseeded across the Uk to great initial success, marking a stand-out example of how long-term conservation can be pulled off with spectacular results.  

Meanwhile, the work continues for the hard working volunteers dedicated to ensuring that our national population of this beautiful bird continues to move in the right direction. 

A national bird with a fascinating story. Official or not, I’m truly proud to call the Red Kite my National Bird of Wales. 


Interested in helping out? Visit the Welsh Kite Trust’s website to find out more. 


Key Information

  • Category – Medium / Large Bird of Prey
  • Family – Accipitridae
  • Wingspan – 175-195cm
  • Length – 60-70cm
  • Weight – 800-1300g

Spotters Guide


A truly beautiful bird to catch a glimpse of. If you’re in an area known to be home to a Red Kite population, keep your eyes on the sky for a distinctly ‘V’ tipped tail, red colouring and a noticeably large wingspan.

They have a habit of circling an area repeatedly in search of their next meal, and given their size can be spotted with the naked eye easily enough. 

Here’s a checklist to keep in mind the next time you find yourself passing through Red Kite country:

  • Large bowed wingspan with fingered wingtips. 
  • Reddish-Orange plumage on back and chest. 
  • Large white patches on underside of wings.
  • Dusky grey coloured head.
  • Forked ‘V’ shape tail.

Further Reading



And there we have it, a brief overview of the national bird of Wales – The majestic Red Kite.

If you’re interested in more things Cymraeg, check out our posts dedicated to Heritage Welsh Apple Trees here, or our overview of assorted Heritage Welsh Fruit Varieties here.

Anyhoo, I hope that’s been of use to you. As always thanks for reading, and please feel free to subscribe to our newsletter below to be kept in the loop of whatever comes next for us here at the EcoGeeks.

Thanks again and Happy Kite-Watching.

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