The Red Kites of Gigrin Farm

Gigrin farm lies just outside Rhayader in mid Wales in the heart of Red Kite territory. It is regarded by many as the best place in Europe to watch and photograph Red Kites. The story of the Red Kites in the UK over the last 20 years has been heralded as a conservation success. In 1989 there were as few as 50 breeding pairs, all located in Wales. Today numbers are estimated at over 2000 breeding pairs with strongholds in Wales and Scotland but with good numbers in both the south and north of England.
Gigrin farm first started a kite feeding station in 1993 following a request from the RSPB as kites were roosting at Gigrin during the winter and numbers visiting the station have risen from around a dozen in the first year to over 400 during winter today. The Red Kites seen at Gigrin are all native to Wales and are not introductions from continental stock as is the case in other parts of the UK. In fact DNA results have revealed that all those tested were the descendants of a single female.
The Welsh Kite Trust tag numbers of kites before they fledge and these tags were visible on many of the birds I photographed .
On the day of our visit in June 2010 there were probably 50 or so birds in the air an hour before feeding time ( the birds are fed at 3.00pm every day- the afternoon being chosen so that the birds must forage for themselves during the early part of the day). Numbers increased as feeding time approached until there were several hundred flying around the five hides, two of which are specialised photography hides.
The Kites are fed beef –fit for human consumption we were told and they buy up to a quarter tonne per week depending on the number of kites visiting. This is paid for by a four pound entry fee (10 pounds for the photography hides) and the day we were there the place was nearly full.
The meat arrives at precisely 3.00 pm on a tractor and is scattered over an area 20 metres by 20.
The crows and ravens (and a few jackdaws) are the first to arrive closely followed by the common buzzards which shows the kites that all is safe, and they immediately start to swoop low over the crows’ and ravens’ heads in attempt to get them rise from the field with food whereupon they can make chase and rob the crows in mid flight.
Some kites will simply swoop in, grab meat in their talons and make off with the meat held tightly beneath the tail. They will then find some clear airspace (to avoid being robbed by another kite) and will eat the meat whilst flying.
The aerial dexterity of these incredible robbers is due to their large wingspan ( up to 1.7metres) and relatively low body weight ( males 28-42 oz, females 35-56 oz). They breed from April to July reaching sexual maturity at 2-3 years. They lay 1-3 eggs which they incubate for 45-50 days.
The action lasts for about an hour and it is truly breathtaking trying to photograph these incredibly agile, fast flying birds as they swoop over the buzzards and grab food with movements almost too swift to be seen.
An hour and 20gig of photographs later and it was all over and we left with our Welsh friends who live 20 minutes up the road and didn’t know the place existed, still excited about one of the best avian experiences we have ever had.