Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 01:29 UK

Red kite numbers hit record high

Red kite. Picture courtesy of the RSPB
Red kites were reintroduced to Scotland in 1989

Numbers of a bird of prey hunted to extinction in Scotland by the Victorians are at their highest in 150 years, RSPB Scotland has said.

Following their reintroduction 20 years ago, there are now at least 149 pairs of red kites.

RSPB Scotland said 234 young birds fledged this year.

The raptors were first released in the Black Isle near Inverness in 1989, then later in central Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway and around Aberdeen.

Nine red kites raised in the Black Isle and fitted with tags are being tracked via satellite for a schools' project.

Eight have remained in the north of Scotland, but one nicknamed Phoenix, has flown to County Donegal on the west coast of Ireland.

RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish government said the birds were a conservation success story.

Duncan Orr Ewing, head of species and land management with RSPB Scotland, said: "Over 20 years, red kites have been brought back from extinction in Scotland to almost 150 pairs, which is almost certainly the highest number for 150 years.

Fourteen juvenile red kites were tagged for satellite tracking this year, but one died shortly after when it fell from its nest
Ten of the tagged kites were adopted by primary schools. Hector - a bird adopted by Dingwall Primary School - was recently knocked down and killed on a road
In August, another of the school kites was rescued after crash landing on a shooting estate

"We hope that the population has now reached a critical mass - amazing visitors and helping local economies at the same time."

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham added: "These magnificent birds could easily have been lost to us for good so to have reintroduced them so successfully is a real feather in the cap for conservation efforts."

The three year Aberdeen Red Kite Project was completed earlier this year with 36 young birds released in the countryside around the city.

Since 2007, 101 kites have been released under the scheme.

In central Scotland 45 breeding pairs in 2008 increased to 55 this year.

One male kite raised on Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed's Balnagown Estate in Ross-shire has nested in Perthshire after exploring the UK - including roaming over Balmoral Estate, Wales and County Durham.

The population in Dumfries and Galloway has also expanded from 30 pairs in 2008 to 40.

Meanwhile, in the Highlands the number of pairs has increased from 45 to 49.

Ten young kites in the Black Isle were tagged for RSPB Scotland's schools project Eyes to the Skies.

A bird adopted by pupils in Dingwall was knocked down and killed on a road leaving nine still being tracked.

Daviot Primary School's adopted bird, Phoenix, has flown to a peninsula in Donegal Bay.

Claire Buchanan, red kite community officer, said it was common for young birds to make long journeys from where they were raised before later returning to settle.

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