Feeding in woodland
There are pros and cons to consider when feeding kites. In the Chilterns, there is no conservation reason to provide additional food for the kites as enough natural food is available, and has been for more than 20 years, to sustain a naturally healthy population of kites.
However, it is possible that supplementary feeding 'could' lead to an unsustainable high population of red kites within the core area. Feeding of red kites has also led to complaints from people who are not happy having pieces of food dropped into their gardens, having the kites swooping low and soiling their windows/cars, etc simply because their neighbour chooses to feed the kites.
With the above in mind, please take a moment to read the following points:
1. Please remember, the welfare of the bird always
2. If you do feed, give only small amounts, and infrequently such that the kite doesn't become used to being fed by you.
3. Provide appropriate food (see below). Do not provide cooked processed foods.
a. Their diet should ideally consist of bones, skin, feathers and fur, of which the kite will extract the essential nutrients they need. This is especially important during the nesting season, when kites are taking food back to the nest to feed their chicks.
b. Although primarily scavengers, mammals such as mice, shrews, voles, etc also form part of a kites natural diet, as do worms. If you have a cat that hunts, then give the kites the 'presents' your cat brings to you.
4. Feed in the afternoon as late as possible. This will encourage the Kite to go out and search for food naturally during the early part of the day.
a. Try to feed only occasionally so that the kite doesn't become used to the food your provide.
b. During periods of bad weather (such as the heavy snowfalls experienced during the past several winters) then by all means give them a helping hand.
5. Do NOT
feed the Kites with dead rats and other mammals that show no signs of obvious injury which have been found in the open countryside. These mammals may have been poisoned.
If you think you have found poisoned bait or victims, do not touch, warn others to stay away, note the exact location and details of any evidence, and cover the items if possible. The UK Agricultural Departments run a poison hotline on 0800 321600 on which suspected incidents of poisoning can be reported. Alternatively, contact your local Police station, who will then contact the local Wildlife Crime Officer
6. Do not leave chopped up meat lying around outside after the kites have fed. Although your neighbour will not appreciate it, the local rat population will love you and will eagerly visit you on a regular basis.
7. It's probably a good idea to have a friendly word with your neighbour, especially if you live in a suburban environment. Kites can and do occasionally drop pieces of food, especially when the other kites try to steal it. These pieces could land in next doors garden, which may not always be appreciated!
Once again, only feed occasionally, so as it doesn't become a 'habit'.
A Kite will not usually land on the ground to feed, except in the open countryside, when people are not present. They can also sometimes be seen on the road feeding on fresh roadkill. Quite often they will swoop down and take the food in their talons.
The kite will adapt its diet according to local conditions - it is an opportunistic feeder and a scavenger - feedling mainly on carrion. They are also known to frequent landfill sites, and can be seen scavenging together with the gulls. Being an opportunistic bird, it will also take live prey, such as small mammals and small birds, usually the sick weak or injured. Beetles and worms also feature on the menu.
The red kite will feed on large dead mammals but although a large bird, it isn't very strong. This means that the kite must wait until a much stronger bird has pierced the carcass with its bill, before it can start feeding.
An important part of the kites diet in the Chilterns consists of rabbit, although - if it is a large rabbit - they are quite often unable to carry away the whole carcass because of their lack of strength. A young rabbit is probably about the heaviest prey it can carry, although there will occasionally be exceptions to the rule. Needless to say, your cats, dogs and young children are safe.
The kite is capable of feeding on the wing. They can transfer food from their talons to bill whilst flying. They will also sit in a tree to feed on larger items perhaps because the food needs to be torn into smaller pieces, whilst they keep an eye on other kites that may decide to 'ambush' the feeding bird!
The following photos show a red kite with a magpie chick, (I believe had fallen out of the nest in my garden) being attacked by the parents (I only managed to get one magpie in the shot).
The kite intended to take the magpie chick back to the nest to feed the three kite chicks. Interestingly, because the kite was being pursued by the magpies (and also a buzzard, at one point), it didn't return direct to the nest, instead it flew around for approximately 20 minutes, trying to fend off the magpie attacks.
Clearly, the kite didn't want the attackers to follow it back to the nest where the three young chicks were waiting for their food. The magpie chick is clearly seen held in the talons of the kite. During all this time, the kite was extremely vocal, calling out urgently
In the Chilterns, a familiar sight is that of dozens of kites following the farmer in his tractor as he works the land. Much as gulls do, the kites follow in the wake of the tractor and collect the insects, including worms and beetles. During the nesting season, these pickings are taken back to the nest for the chicks.
One year, a nest being watched by a CCTV camera in the Chilterns showed the chicks being fed almost exclusively on worms for the entire day!