|There are now reckoned to be 2,000 pairs of red kites in Britain (Photo: Arturo de Frias Marquesvia Wikipedia Commons)|
HOW long will it be before red kites are breeding within North East Lincolnshire?
Back in the 1960s, the British population of this superb-looking bird of prey once plummeted to no fewer than seven known pairs - all of them in mid-Wales.
But thanks to more stringent controls on pesticides, reduced persecution and various re-introduction projects, there are now reckoned to be at least 2,000 pairs - one tenth of the global population - within the UK.
The species - notable for its forked tail and rust-red plumage - is now quite common in the wolds of East Yorkshire and around the Harewood estate, not many miles from Leeds. Its numbers are also rapidly increasing in Rutland and around Grantham, Bourne and other parts of south Lincolnshire.
Individual pairs are thought to have prospected potential breeding sites near Caistor and Elsham, but, unless there is a site that is being kept secret by conservationists, red kites are not thought to have a breeding presence in the northern half of Lincolnshire . . . at least, not yet.
At the October meeting of Grimsby RSPB, an audience of about 50 heard a fascinating presentation from guest speaker Nigel Puckrin who took early retirement from his work as an electrical engineer at the former British Sugar factory in York in order to co-ordinate research on the breeding fortunes of kites.
In his view, it may only be a matter of time before the first pairs are nesting in places such as the Lincolnshire Wolds where the undulating countryside is a favoured type of habitat. Already single birds are occasionally being seen here on fleeting visits.
Although kites would face competition locally from the already-established buzzard, which is a slightly larger and more aggressive raptor, Nigel reckons the two species would be able to co-exist.
In his illustrated talk, staged at the Corpus Christi community hall in Cleethorpes, the speaker traced the fortunes of kites back to the ninth century, and he pinpointed references in Shakespeare and other literary and artistic sources.
Kites' main diet consists of carrion, and they thrived, even in cities such as London, at times when street sanitation was minimal to non-existent. But their population went into reverse firstly when public hygiene improved, then when they were classified as "vermin"
In Victorian times, they were further clobbered by the popularity of taxidermy and egg-collecting - and they effectively became extinct in England (though not Wales) when the last known female was shot on her nest in Shropshire in 1867.
Nowadays, kites are protected by law, but it is thought there may still be some persecution by gamekeepers on certain country estates. As carrion eaters, they are also likely to perish if they feed on rats or other mammals that have been poisoned by rodenticides.
According to Nigel, golf courses are becoming increasingly popular choices for nest sites. There are at least three in Yorkshire which are home to two breeding pairs. Despite the noise and mayhem, at least two paintball parks have also been chosen for nesting activities.
And here is another curiosity: Items of clothing, such as woollen gloves, and even discarded soft toys are sometime used to line nests.
"Our very first successful Yorkshire nest in 2000 had a teddy bear's head and a tea towel in it,"recalled Nigel.
On the minus side, plastic bags are sometimes also used for lining - a risk being that they will collect rain and the waterlogged nest will collapse on to the ground below.
More about this superb bird of prey can be found on the website: www.yorkshireredkites.net.