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The Decline and Comeback of the Red Kite

It’s another amazing example of what a little thought and effort can do in the world of conservationism.

The story arc for the Red Kite was all too familiar for many birds. Before the explosion of industrialism, the birds of prey were populous and free with habitats intact and unthreatened. Then, man began to develop better machines, create better weaponry and expand its territory.

Red Kites were hunted as vermin, their eventually rare eggs collected and they were poisoned accidentally. The numbers plummeted to an alarmingly low level of 20 pairs in the 1960s with complete extinctions in England and Scotland.

It’s this point in the story that usually differs among birds. There are a few paths that birds can take, including continuing toward extinction, being a species only alive in captivity or making a slow comeback.

In very uplifting news this week, the Royal Society’s for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) 2011 Big Garden Birdwatch (the British equivalent to the Great Backyard Bird Count here in America) reported that the Red Kites have come back in a big way.

Red Kites, which are large beautiful birds of prey endemic to Europe and Northern Africa, are now the 53rd most common birds in British Gardens, according to The Daily Mail. The birdwatch reported about 2,000 breeding pairs of the birds that were just recently reintroduced to the area in the 1990s. That 2,000 was a 130 percent increase since last year.

For some birds, like these Red Kites, all it really takes is a little effort at conservation to bring them back from the brink of total annihilation. It’s amazing to think just how many birds could have been spared from this list of extinct birds by a simple effort to curb hunting and use of harmful poisons.

Red Kites were hunted mercilessly and intentionally (and unintentionally) poisoned because they were believed to be pests. They were slowly killed over a course of 400 years and almost went the way of the dodo until bird and nature-loving groups stepped up to the challenge of protecting them.

The story of the Red Kite, as well as the hundreds of other species that never made it back from that brink of extinction, should be used as a cautionary tale. Things that might seem like perfectly normal actions or useful chemicals today might have negative long-term repercussions on the environment.

These Red Kites show it’s not too late until the last one is gone to make changes that will save a species. We share this world with the animals, and the world is definitely big enough for all of us to coexist.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

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