You don’t fully get the appeal of the red kite until you watch one in action. It’s not the biggest or boldest of our birds of prey, but its distinctive shape and colour, together with its dazzling aeronautical displays, make it an unforgettable sight. All the more so if you get to see dozens, even hundreds, at the same time.
The best way of doing that is to visit one of the kite feeding stations dotted around the lonely Cambrian Mountains. At Gigrin Farm, near Rhayader, the Powell family have been feeding kites since the winter of 1992, when there were just two birds visiting. A year later, six appeared and it has been steadily increasing ever since. On a recent chilly afternoon, I watched over 100 feed, a spectacle that unfolded with all the drama and grace
of a well-choreographed ballet.
Thirty years ago, the number of red kites in Britain was down to near single figures. Since then, careful breeding programmes have brought this magnificent bird of prey, famous for its russet colour and forked tail, back from the brink.
Red kites have been reintroduced in the Chilterns, the Midlands and parts of Scotland, but mid Wales provides a chance to see native kites in their ancient stronghold.
At 2pm sharp, farmer Chris Powell drove his tractor into the feeding field. Binocular lenses shimmered in the hides as he pitchforked kilos of raw meat out on to the grass (Gigrin get through over a quarter of a ton of meat from the local abattoir every week). Until this point, I’d only spotted a couple of circling kites, but suddenly the skies thickened as a host of birdlife swirled in for their afternoon snack. Kites are quite shy creatures, so it was up to the crows and ravens to make the first plunge, followed swiftly by the buzzards. Only then did the kites begin to dive.
Their precision is astonishing. Unlike the other birds, kites don’t linger on the ground, so they have to seize the flesh in their talons as they swoop to earth, before a twitch of their rudder-like tail spins them back up into the air and aloft to a nearby tree where they can safely enjoy their spoils. There were spats and muggings between the birds, but everyone got what they needed. The kites have a well-ordered ranking for food: the older birds feed first, before making way for the younger members of the family.
Chris never tires of the daily display. “It’s always different,” he told me, “When we had snow, the kites were much more desperate for food and weren’t so stand-offish, so we could get closer. On some of the days around Christmas, there were 400-500 at a time coming to eat.”
Red kite safari
Impressive though the feeding stations are, you can have some intoxicating encounters with red kites pretty much anywhere in the mid Wales countryside. Try taking a Red Kite Safari from the market town of Machynlleth, led by Elfyn Pugh. He steers you around some of the bird’s regular haunts and is a mine of information, having long been part of the team responsible for this inspirational comeback story. You’ll soon see why the red kite is the much-loved symbol of the vast county of Powys.
Gigrin Farm is off the A470, just south of Rhayader.
FIND OUT MORE
Daily feeding at 2pm (3pm BST). Adults £4.
Red Kite Safaris
Aberhosan, near Machynlleth
Bespoke trips to see the kites, in the wild and at the feeding stations, throughout mid Wales.
Maengwyn Street, Machynlleth
Award-winning town centre hotel and bar, supremely relaxed and offering the very best in local and seasonal produce.
Talbontdrain Guest House
Uwchygarreg, near Machynlleth
Lovely old farmhouse B&B in the hills south of Machynlleth. Great for unpolluted night skies.
Brynafon, South Street, Rhayader LD6 5BL
Unusual historic hotel nestled in the valley below Gigrin Farm.