Birds (& The Red Kite)
The Red Kite
The Red Kite is a large bird of prey with a wing-span of 150cm (5 feet) and often seen in the Elan Valley. They are about 60cm (2 feet) long and weigh 1 kilo (2.2 lbs). Unlike the Buzzard it has a forked, red tail.
It is a rare bird with about 300 pairs in Wales. It used to be found over much of England and Scotland but was exterminated by gamekeepers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Red Kite was first mentioned as living in the Elan Valley in the 18th century, but has probably done so for thousands of years. Now the Elan Estate supports a healthy population and birds are seen everywhere - even over the Visitor Centre most days.
Some nests of Red Kites are still robbed of their eggs and the most likely cause of death of an adult bird is by poisoning. It has now been reintroduced to parts of England and Scotland with young birds from Spain and Scandinavia. British Kites stay here all year whilst birds from central and northern Europe migrate to the Mediterranean area for the winter. Red Kites nest in trees usually at a height of 15 to 20 metres. The nest is about 1 metre across made of sticks and lined with wool or hair. 1 to 3 eggs are laid in March or April. They take about a month to hatch and the young can fly when they are seven weeks old. The oldest Red Kite known from ringing was 25 years old. Red Kites eat dead animals, young magpies and crows, rabbits, voles, beetles and worms.
Birds of Elan
180 different species of bird have been recorded on the Elan Estate since records began in the 1880's. Perhaps the best known these days is the Red Kite which thrives in the Elan Valley. However, Elan is also home to 8 of the rarest 36 bird species in the UK, all of which breed here. Amongst these are the Merlin, Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Of the 110 species "Amber Listed" (declining, some now uncommon) by the RSPB and BTO, 21 breed regularly here and a further 47 have been seen on the Estate. 11 species of bird of prey have been recorded and 19 species of duck. Rare birds seen include Roller and White Stork.
In 1975 there were about 40 pairs each of Curlew and Lapwing; now there are 1 or 2 Curlew and no Lapwings.Other losses of breeding birds in the last ten years include Stock Dove and Woodcock.
Over the last twenty or so years we have gained Goosanders and Goshawks whilst Peregrine, Red Kite, Siskin and Crossbill have all greatly increased. The most common breeding bird on the Estate is the Meadow Pipit, a small brown bird which nests all over the abundant grass moorland. Common birds of the broadleaved woodlands include Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler. The rocky hillsides have many Wheatears which are often seen by the roadside. Whinchats, Tree Pipits and a few Stonechats breed on the hillsides.
On the highest moors can still be found about 40 pairs each of Golden Plover and Dunlin. Winter visitors to the Estate from the north and east include Goldeneye, Pochard, Brambling and Fieldfare. About 20 pairs each of Spotted Flycatcher and Swallow breed on the Estate. They migrate each year to South Africa - a round trip of 20,000 kilometres!