Regular exposure to these magnificent birds hasn’t dimmed the awe they inspire in me. I once dragged my family over a hundred miles to see some in the Welsh mountains, they were so rare, now I see them from my bed. Long ago they were common, even in urban settings, and regarded positively because they kept the streets clean of carrion and rotting food. But then the Tudors classified them as vermin, seeing them as competition for the produce of the countryside, and with rewards offered for their carcasses their numbers started to fall, until eventually they were extinct in England. A welcome conservation success story since being re-introduced from Harewood in 1999, their territorial expansion continues. When the sun catches their plumage at this time of year as they effortlessly ride a thermal, they’re quite spectacular. They nest in at least two woods around Otley. Although they eat a lot of carrion – mostly small mammals and birds – they also catch live animals, including earthworms. The name Kite was used for the bird long before it was used for the toy. Shakespeare made reference to the birds stealing washing from clothes lines for their nests.
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