A Red Kite, released in county Wicklow on the 19th of July, was found and rescued by a Leitrim Sheep farmer on the October 1st. The farmer, Michael Torsney, found the bird which was in a very weak condition, at dawn on a road verge near his farm. Michael brought the bird home and put it under a heat lamp, normally used for the care of newborn lambs. Michael’s course of action undoubtedly saved the Red Kite. Blood and faecal samples were taken from the bird by the Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory and sent for toxicology analysis. It seems quite likely the bird was poisoned by Alphachloralose, which causes hypothermia in those birds and mammals that digest it. Michael contacted the telephone number on the underside of the kite’s purple wing tag, used to identify each individual. The bird has made a full recovery and was released today back in County Wicklow.
The kite, known as Purple N, was one of 30 Red Kites that were released in County Wicklow as part of the Red Kite Reintroduction programme. The project, managed by the Golden Eagle Trust Ltd, The National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust, aims to restore this native Irish bird to Ireland. Most birds have remained close to the release area and have been seen feeding on numerous silage fields and recently harvested arable fields - foraging for worms and insects. However, Red Kite N, was more nomadic. It was last seen in the Wicklow release area on the 27th of July. By the 27th of August it was seen along the Smerlagh river, 5km outside Listowel, County Kerry, over 250km away. It stayed in this area of farmland until at least the 21st of September. On the 26th of September it was recorded outside Kinlough, in County Leitrim, having moved over another 270km in less than 5 days. Michael Torsney recovered the bird outside Dromahair, a short distance away, 5 days later, on the 1st of October.
The Golden Eagle Trust Ltd (GET), who is managing the Red Kite Project, arranged to take the bird back into captivity for rehabilitation. It was noted the stricken bird still had crow feathers in its talons. Alphachloralose poisoning is still a legally used poison, widely available in Chemists and Farm supply shops. It is used to control mice, rats, Hooded Crows and Magpies. It is likely that someone was targeting crows with Alphachloralose and poisoned the Kite unintentionally. The bird was transported in a heated cage to a bird of prey specialist in Buncrana. The bird was extremely weak at this stage, but a solution of fluids and salts delivered by feeding tube helped revive the bird. Once returned to full health the bird was transported back to Wicklow for release on the 15th of October. The kite was released next to the Red Kite communal roost and will hopefully settle down with the main groups over the winter.
Birds of prey such as kites, buzzards and eagles are extremely prone to poisoning, as they will readily scavenge at poisoned meat baits. The Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle Project Steering teams and the GET have been lobbying for some time to have poisoned meat baits completely banned, due to the risk of indiscriminate poisoning of protected birds and mammals. Non-meat baits could still be used to control the correct target species or preferably other non-toxic control methods could be employed.
Indeed, one of the reasons why County Wicklow was chosen as the Red Kite release area, was because of its healthy Buzzard population – indicating that the use of poisoned meat baits in Wicklow is comparatively low. Buzzards have yet to establish a strong foothold in Sligo, Leitrim or Roscommon, though they are widespread in Donegal, Fermanagh and Monaghan. A pair of Buzzards- were reportedly shot in French Forest Park, Roscommon, a few years ago, with the culprits boasting in nearby Boyle that they had shot a pair of Golden Eagles roosting in trees one evening. And though a pair of Buzzards was confirmed breeding in Sligo this season, the risk of poisoning and shooting remain the main threat to our native birds of prey.
One of the Wicklow Red Kites was recently shot in County Wicklow and there was widespread anger at the incident locally. Declan O Neill, Chairman of the Wicklow IFA said, “From a farming point of view these birds are absolutely no threat and do no damage….We think these are beautiful animals and the birds are an asset to the county from a tourist point of view. The incident is a real tragedy… we certainly condemn it”. The National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC), the national body representing the shooting community in Ireland, said it has supported the project from the outset. Director, Des Crofton, was “horrified” and said “he unreservedly condemned it”.
The Golden Eagle Trust Limited said, “We are very grateful to Michael Torsney, (the Leitrim farmer) for his decisive and quick response to this incident- Michael undoubtedly saved this kite from a slow death. We would also like to take this opportunity to ask all gun clubs and landowners to exercise extreme caution while laying poison in the open countryside. Under the Wildlife Amendment Act (2000), the local Garda Station must be informed in writing if poison is to be laid and poison warning notices must be erected nearby, as poisons do pose a risk to children, pets and sheep dogs also. We would ask everyone not to use poison meat baits – poison is indiscriminate and one cannot tell what will eat the bait and consume the toxins. With the huge national effort to restore Red Kites, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles, alongside an expanding Buzzard population, we believe it is high time these poisoning regulations were reviewed and amended. For example, while it is currently legal to poison Hooded Crows and Magpies, it is illegal to poison Rooks and Jackdaws, highlighting the flaws in this regulation. Birds of prey are natural predators of young crows, magpies and foxes and it is quite possible that the loss of so many native birds of prey has allowed our crow population to become so numerous.