Threats to Red Kites
There are still many threats to the lives of red kites
Due to their scavenging lifestyle it is inevitable that kites will find carcasses of animals and birds that have been shot. Indeed in England especially, many farmers and keepers shoot rabbits and wood pigeons and intentionally leave them out for kites that frequent their land.
There is a considerable risk that any kites feeding on such animals may swallow quantities of lead shot sufficient to cause lead-poisoning and such poisoning has already been recorded in both adult and nestling Red Kites in England and Scotland.
Whilst little can be done to prevent kites finding birds or animals in the wild which have been killed or wounded, please do not intentionally leave out carcasses containing lead shotgun pellets.
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Recent years have seen a decline in the deplorable practice of taking eggs for private collections, which once represented a major threat to Welsh breeding kites.
In the late 1980's and early 1990's up to 10 nests were robbed of eggs each year from a total of only 40 or 50 nesting pairs. Robberies are still reported annually but the imposition of greater fines and prison sentences, combined with the fact that the kite is obviously not as rare as it was, has meant that the percentage of nests failing due to this selfish practise has reduced considerably. Egg-collecting however is still an illegal and unacceptable activity.
ABUSE AND MISUSE OF POISONS
A considerable number of Red Kites die as a direct result of ingesting pesticides and other poisonous substances intentionally applied in lethal doses to meat baits (abuse). These highly illegal baits, aimed at foxes, badgers or crows, also cause the deaths of many other animals including kites, other protected birds and even farm dogs.
Many substances lethal to birds and easily acquired for legitimate use have been widely abused in this manner. This is clearly shown by the evidence provided by government scientists analysing dead kites picked up from time to time and taken for postmortem examinations.
Besides strychnine and alphachloralose, a wide variety of organo- chlorine and organo-phosphorous pesticides have been identified in the corpses analysed. Results in recent years suggest that over half of all Welsh kites die prematurely from ingesting poisons.
Not all of these kites will have died from eating illegally poisoned baits, some will have been accidentally killed through the careless use of toxic chemicals for otherwise legitimate purposes (misuse). When used in accordance with the manufactures instructions these chemicals may be quite safe but when used irresponsibly without due care and attention wildlife, including kites, can suffer. Strychnine for example is licensed solely for the under-ground control of moles. Any moles or worms containing Strychnine left on the surface would be a serious danger to scavenging kites.
Likewise sheep-dip can cause problems for kites. Sheep that die shortly after dipping may still contain enough dip to kill any scavenging birds, including kites and buzzards, which feed on them. Spilt sheep dip can soak into the ground, contaminating earthworms and perhaps causing them to rise to the surface - any kite or other bird eating these worms would very probably die shortly afterwards.
It is now illegal to feed kites without a licence. This has come about due to EEC legislation.The food has to be both fit for human consumption and be from a licensed meat handling operation such as a licenced abattoir.
The meat has to be refrigerated during its journey from the abattoir to the red kite feeding premises and when stored. The field on which the food is spread must not be grazed and has to be to be closed to all stock so the grass has to be cut mechanically. Butchers now have to have licences to offer anything not intended for human consumption and, like the feeding station, the licence requirements will be inspected by ministry vets at least 3 times a year.
This is both to protect the kites and the surrounding country as not only can red kites be harmed by indiscriminate feeding but the meat can be carried great distances and with it any maladies that may be contained within.