Public urged to help monitor population of red kite in Northern Ireland
The public have been told to keep their eyes on the skies for red kites.
The RSPB Northern Ireland has made the appeal to help them build a clearer picture of exactly how many of these magnificent birds of prey currently make their home here.
Red kites were hunted to extinction in the province more than two centuries ago because people mistakenly saw them as a threat to game and livestock.
But they returned to our skies in 2008 after the conservation charity joined forces with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species.
Over a period of two years, dozens of young red kites were released into Co Down and every year since 2010 these relocated kites have produced their own chicks.
Unfortunately, the project hasn't been without its setbacks. Population increase is slow and a number of birds have died from natural causes and as a result of poisoning or shooting.
The current population is thought to stand at around 21 breeding pairs. Although no further releases are planned, the charity emphasised that it is vital they continue to monitor the population until it is at a sustainable level - which they consider to be around 50 pairs.
RSPB NI's red kite monitoring officer Alan Ferguson is supported by a small team of volunteers who carry out detailed on-the-ground monitoring. He said the more pairs of eyes searching the skies the better.
While Co Down remains a hot-spot, red kites have been seen as far away as Fermanagh and Londonderry.
Mr Ferguson said people will be able to easily identify red kites with their rusty-red colouring, a distinctive forked tail, white patches under each wing and inky black wing tips, not to mention their five-and-a-half-feet wingspan.
"While they are quite large birds of prey, kites are opportunistic scavengers, happily living off carrion, road kill and invertebrates such as worms as they lack the strength to pose a threat to livestock or people," he said.
"As the kites are no longer radio tagged, following them can be difficult. This is where the public's assistance is vitally important to us. All sightings are greatly appreciated and allow us to focus efforts in particular areas."
To report a red kite sighting, email email@example.com. Sightings where the coloured wing tags are read are most helpful but sightings of untagged kites, or where the tags could not be read, are also useful.
Red kites are a protected species and causing them harm is an offence, so the charity is also asking people to report any signs that they are being attacked to the PSNI by calling 101.