High as a kite over return of rare birds
THE first red kite chicks born in Ireland in over 200 years have hatched.
Despite setbacks last year when two pairs bred but produced no offspring, the Golden Eagle Trust yesterday revealed that seven chicks are flourishing in the Wicklow Hills, scattered across three nests.
And the birth of the raptors means the Red Kite Project is now a step closer to establishing a self-sustaining population in Wicklow, three years after the birds of prey were re-introduced to the wild.
So far 81 red kites have been imported from Wales and released in the Garden of Ireland, and can be seen soaring over Avoca any day of the week.
So called because of its reddish-brown body and tail, kites have a wingspan of up to 1.8m, despite weighing just 700g.
As they are natural scavengers, carrion is an important part of their diet in winter.
They also eat small mammals, crows, pigeons, insects and worms.
Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday visited the site to view progress on the re-introduction project and meet some of the new arrivals.
"2010 is the year of International Biodiversity and the Red Kite Project is an excellent example of an Irish biodiversity project," he said.
"We re-introduced the kites to Wicklow in 2007 after an absence of 200 years and I am delighted to highlight another milestone in this project.
"This season, nine breeding attempts have been discovered. Chicks have been confirmed in three of the nests so far."
The success of the kites in Wicklow is largely down to the co-operation of farmers and landowners. Once common throughout Britain and Ireland, habitat loss drove it to extinction except in the remote uplands of Wales, where at one point there were just two known breeding pairs.
The project has had its problems, but project manager Damian Clarke said Wicklow farmers had taken the birds under their wing.
"There's lots of farmers living with them for three years now," he said. "I've seen kite nests very close to habitats. There was one 10m from a farmer's house. One farmer said during the snows he was feeding them venison and sheep carcasses."
While most of the released birds have taken up permanent residence in the county, kites from Wicklow have also been sighted in Kerry, Leitrim, Dublin, Sligo and Antrim.
Next week is National Biodiversity Week. Details of events are at www.noticenature.ie.