Return of Red Kite: A successful wildlife conservation in Wales

Red Kite, a common bird in the Middle Ages, was reborn under the protection of Wales after a near extinction.

Red kites in Gigrin Farm, its wingspan can be 175-195cm.

Welsh birdwatchers have been enjoying sightings of a rare white kite in one of the country’s leading hotspots for nature travellers. 

Gigrin Farm has long been associated with red kites, one of the most emblematic species in Wales, and the arrival of three leucistic birds has caused great excitement.

“Many people have come to the farm to see it,” says a visitor to the Gigrin Farm.

What are leucistic birds? 

Leucistic red kites are defined as the complete or partial absence of two kinds of pigment in one or more feathers, but not in the eyes, bill or feet. 

There are only ten leucistic red kites in the world, and three of them which regularly visit the Gigrin farm.  “It would be logistically very difficult to re-introduce these birds elsewhere,” says Dominique Powell, the owner of Gigrin farm.

Gigrin is a family run upland sheep farm, and became the official red kite feeding station in the winter of 1993 following a request from the RSPB who had witnessed the late Mr. Powell feeding the kites.

“It’s just an accident,” says Dominique. “My late father-in-law, Mr Eithel Powell, found a red kite was feeding on a rabbit caught by the family dog “Jamie” on 1993, and then they kept leaving more carcasses out for the kites.”

The RSPB became aware of this, because Red Kites were so rare at that time, and in danger of becoming extinct, the RSPB asked if the farm would consider putting food out every day over the winter months to encourage the Kites.

The farm agreed to do that, and in order to pay for the cost of purchasing meat for the birds the farm started to allow members of the public to pay to come and see the Kites.

“We have grown from there.” says Dominique. “We started off with just a couple of birds, moving up to around a dozen, and now we typically see around 400 kites daily in the winter, sometimes more if the weather is very cold.  The Red Kites are now fed daily throughout the year and have been for the last 30 years which is quite an achievement.”

The Red Kite was once a common bird in mediaeval times in UK, but was persecuted and nearly extinct in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.

“In the 1980s, anyone who wanted to see a red kite had to make a dedicated pilgrimage to a handful of locations. Today, it is a daily sight for millions of people.”  said Jeff Knott, RSPB operations director for Central and East England. “In just a few decades, we have brought an endangered species to the UK, home to nearly 10% of the world’s population. This could be the greatest species success story in British conservation history.”

Except for Gigrin Farm, there’s some other sites for people to see and feed red kite too. The Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Station in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Carmarthenshire, and the Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Centre in Ponterwyd. They’re also seen regularly at RSPB Cwm Clydach in the Swansea Valleys.

You might see red kites anywhere in the UK these days, but Wales is their eternal home.