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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Field Trip: Red Kite feeding site

I went out to the local Red Kite feeding station today. As you can see, there were hundreds of them! Red Kites are some of my favourite birds, it's always great to see them flying overhead. From a distance it's hard to tell them apart from other birds of prey like Buzzards, but if you look at their tails then you'll see a lovely forked tail on a Kite. They were once almost hunted to extinction in the UK but programs like the one I went to today have helped them recover, to the point that now they are a pretty common site in Wales (and elsewhere in the UK too). They're normally pretty solitary animals, characteristically of a raptor, but the daily feeds at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian bring unusually large flocks together. I've been a few times before but today's was by far the largest group I've seen yet; it was really impressive!

They're being fed raw meat, supplied by local butchers. Red Kites are happy eating carrion so are often seen flying over roads looking for roadkill. Crows, too, feed on dead meat and it is quite common to see a few crows trying to chase a Kite out of their territory. Today though, the crows were outnumbered by far! They can still be heard pretty clearly in the video (the loud cawing) but the piercing cry of the Kites can be heard too.

I always find it fascinating how they rarely seem to flap their wings while circling; they use thermal currents, and rises of air created by the mountains to stay flying without using any real effort. They circle above the feeding area, waiting for someone to be brave enough to swoop down to get some meat. They're big, powerful and (here) in large numbers but they're still very timid. Once one of them moves to get food they all follow suit, taking advantage of the classic 'safety in numbers' strategy often seen throughout the natural world.

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