An unexpected COVID-19 consequence must surely be the threat to commercial birds, and our own pet hens, from Red Kites.
Originally valued as a scavenger in the Middle Ages that helped to keep British streets clean of rubbish, this powerful bird of prey soon fell out of favour and was subsequently designated ‘vermin’ in the 16th century. By the 19th century it became extinct, first in England and then Scotland, and the final remaining flock of 20 breeding pairs in Wales was given protection in the early 20th century. All the birds derived from a single surviving female.
Fast forward to 2020, the population has grown over 1,000% in the last 20 years and these beautiful and graceful birds are now regularly seen across the UK.
However, with the arrival of COVID-19 and lockdown, came the immediate reduction of traffic on our roads, and therefore roadkill – the birds’ equivalent of takeaway – also dramatically dropped, forcing the kites to source easy food elsewhere.
We have reports from just north of the M4 corridor of hens regularly being taken by kites which tend to swoop on smaller birds, often around trees or in long grass, and usually eat their kill on site leaving the carcass stripped, occasionally perching on a fence post for their feast. It’s less likely that a kite will drop into a suburban garden, but it’s worth knowing if you have kites in your area, that they are not averse to chancing their luck.