Skip navigation.

Red kites over Witney

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 15 Feb 2011 at 11:36 AM

As I work, I like to listen to the birds singing. Listening to the songs of birds can give you an idea of what’s going on nearby without having to look – I call it ‘looking with my ears’. The song might change from tuneful territorial singing to an alarm call, which may mean that a cat has come into the garden or that a blundering human has disturbed a bird. Bird songs are hard to describe, but most people would recognise the shrieking rattle of a blackbird that has been inadvertently startled.

To start with, I was listening to the usual high-pitched "tsee-tsee-tsu-hu-hu-hu-hu" (listen to it here) of two bluetits (Cyanistes caeruleus) who were busily searching up and down the branches of the Magnolia tree for small insects. This song changed abruptly to what is described as a ‘churring’ sound, which is their alarm call. The other birds heard it – the blackbird rattled loudly and flew at ground level to the tangled safety of a large Cotoneaster, while the pair of robins, who had been watching us work, suddenly started a loud ticking sound and quickly made for shelter.

A quick look round revealed no cats, no one had come in through the door in the garden wall and there were no sudden loud noises. In fact, the air was still and quiet. What had disturbed them? Looking up, I saw what it was – a magnificent red kite (Milvus milvus) was gliding overhead, possibly looking for carrion or an unobservant small bird to make a meal of. This is a first, I’ve never seen a red kite over this town before and I stopped to admire its graceful flight until it disappeared out of view over the neighbouring rooftops. What a treat that was. The other birds gradually calmed down and went back to their usual behaviour, singing and foraging, but it was interesting to see and hear them warn one another of danger. They will do this when cats are about as well.


Red kites were brought back from the very brink of extinction with a breeding programme starting in the late 1980s. Now they are slowly spreading across Britain, their numbers gradually increasing. According to the RSPB, ‘Central Wales, central England - especially the Chilterns, central Scotland - at Argaty, and along the Galloway Kite Trail are the best areas to find them’.

So, when you’re in your garden and the birds suddenly chatter with alarm, look up, there may be a red kite flying over. With a distinctly forked tail and a wing span of 145-165 cm (57-65"), they are hard to miss and a pleasure to behold.


Twitter Trackbacks for Red kites over Witney - Miranda Hodgson [] on said:

Pingback from  Twitter Trackbacks for                 Red kites over Witney - Miranda Hodgson         []        on

on 15 Feb 2011 at 03:00 PM

richardpeeej said:

Lovely write-up Miranda the Red Kite is such a graceful bird with its triangular shaped tail. I saw them on holiday once on  the welsh borders and it inspired me to write this short poem over a year ago :-

on 15 Feb 2011 at 05:07 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Richard! That's a lovely poem, I really like it and will send it to a bird watching friend of mine.

on 15 Feb 2011 at 06:30 PM

richardpeeej said:

Thank you Miranda I appreciate your comments very much

on 15 Feb 2011 at 07:36 PM

David Benson said:

Wonderful article, Miranda! These should be being published, in The Independent or something. Very vivid prose and very informative too! xx

on 15 Feb 2011 at 07:47 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, David, that's very kind of you to say! xx

on 16 Feb 2011 at 09:04 AM

Botanic Tone said:

Miranda your note on Red Kites over Witney

Stokenchurch seems to have been close to one of the RSPB's earlier English re-introduction programmes, i.e. some farms in the hills. Not very? far from Witney ??

You may be horrified to hear, and I heard this first hand from a lady in Henley on Thames, that locally Red Kites are referred to as "Henley Sparrows" - a good example of inverted snobbery! They are SO common.

They seem to follow each other about, in parts of Oxon. and Berks. I have seen as many as 25 to 30 kites at once, all lazily flapping their disproportionately large wings, seemingly hanging almost motionless by invisible threads.

It leads me to thinking of appropriate collective nouns for a Krowd of Kites, a collection of kites, a sky of kites, .... Their aerial grace is almost therapeutic, even soporific, Nature never fails to relax the furrowed brow.

Botanic Tone.

on 20 Feb 2011 at 09:01 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Tone, that's very interesting. Thanks for telling me. I'm seeing more kites over Witney than I've ever noticed before - I wonder if they'll become known as 'Witney sparrows'?

on 27 Feb 2011 at 03:31 PM