The red kite population in the UK has had a chequered history. Between the 18th and 20th century numbers dwindled to a handful of breeding pairs bringing the species to the brink of extinction in Britain. In 1989 a reintroduction programme was established by the RSPB and the Nature Conservancy Council. In the last 30 years birds reintroduced to the Chilterns, East Midlands, Yorkshire and North-East England have bred so successfully that there are now estimated to be over 5000 breeding pairs in England. The red kite however still faces significant threats from shooting and anti-coagulant rodenticide poisoning. Health surveillance thus remains critical in order to understand the challenges faced by the red kite population and to protect the species.
A radiograph of a red kite examined in January 2019 - the shot pellet is clearly visible close to the eye socket.
With support from Natural England and in collaboration with wildlife groups such as the RSPB and Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, the DRAHS team lead on health surveillance of red kites in England. When carcasses are submitted a post-mortem examination is carried out. Radiographs can indicate the possible presence of gunshot and reveal bony damage. Careful post-mortem examination can reveal the extent of injuries or pathological processes. Tissue samples can be tested for poisons. Examination of the gastrointestinal tract can reveal a parasitic worm burden. Samples and swabs from organs can also be sent for further analysis including histopathology, bacteriology and virology. Much can be discovered about the possible contributors to mortality through these detailed investigations.
Provision of continued expert health surveillance for the red kite