Conservation and Education to Save Scotland’s Red Kites
With their striking chestnut red color, angled wings and distinctive forked tails, red kites were once a relatively common sight in the skies of Scotland. However, these beautiful birds of prey were all but wiped out as man took over their habitat, causing them to be seen as competition for available food resources and therefore a threat to be destroyed. It is recorded history that King James II of Scotland, who ruled in the mid-15th century, decreed that kites should be killed wherever possible, with the result being that red kites have not been seen in the wild for more than a century. Thanks to a conservation project called Argaty Red Kites, located on Lerrocks Farm near Stirling, this is set to change, and visitors are encouraged to find out firsthand what is being done to increase the red kite population in Scotland.
As Central Scotland’s only red kite feeding station, Argaty Red Kites offer visitors the opportunity to observe these magnificent birds in their natural habitat. While the population is quite small at this stage, and therefore still considered to be vulnerable, the birds are breeding and numbers are increasing. With a few exceptions, the feeding station is open all year round. During breeding season the birds tend to be elusive, and the best time to observe the resident red kites is between October and March, when the young ones are at their most sociable. Nonetheless, there is plenty to see and learn about in any season as visitors can observe the other bird species on the farm, enjoy some time in the countryside, and learn interesting facts about the positive interaction between farming practices and wildlife conservation.
Using wing tags for identification, conservationists gather valuable information regarding survival rates, the age at which birds first breed, composition of breeding pairs, and their movement patterns. Wing tagging has proven to be a very effective way to monitor the birds, with the left wing tag being colour coded to identify its location, and the right wing tag marked with the year code.
As the aim of the conservation project is to introduce a self-sustaining population back into the wild, feeding is kept to a minimum. During the winter months, feeding takes place at 1:30 pm, and at 2:30 pm from March to October. Argaty Red Kites have provided a spacious hide for bird watchers, as well as a visitors’ center and restroom facilities. Spring and summer guided walks allow visitors to enjoy the deciduous and coniferous woodland, more than 100 different species of birds, meadows flush with wildflowers and a variety of animals such as red deer and red squirrels. School groups are welcomed at Argaty Red Kites, and booking ahead is advised.