Red Kites at Gigrin Farm

One of the most fantastic spectacles anywhere is a huge gathering of birds – especially birds of prey.  Gigrin Farm in mid-Wales probably has the biggest gathering of red kites anywhere.  And you get so much closer to them here because of the hides/blinds.

Red Kite can be seen across most of Europe – distribution map here – usually in small numbers, up to half a dozen, but occasionally dozens of them together at food resources like rubbish tips. I thought the dozens of birds floating over the rubbish tip at Reinosa in northern Spain was pretty impressive when I saw it in 1989, but that pales by comparison.

The late Mr Powell started feeding the kites on his farm in the 1980s, and the farm became an official feeding station open to the public in 1992/93.  There were six red kites regularly using the area at the start, but by 2015 six hundred wasn’t an unusual number.

The feeding station is located near Rhayader, in central Wales.  It is surrounded by mostly livestock farming – often the only viable farming in this cool wet climate, but is close to the large reservoirs of the Elan Valley (supplying water to cities such as Birmingham), forestry plantations and open hill country.

But why feed kites?  Can’t they find their own food?

Kites are basically scavengers, large but lightweight birds that float on air currents looking for scraps to eat – though they can kill small prey if they have to.  They are not strong enough to open a carcass of any size, and have to wait for a raven, crow or buzzard to do that before they can feed.

There aren’t many carcasses left on the land these days – farm hygiene and bio-security mean that such things are cleared away, buried, etc.  So young kites in particular have difficulty finding enough food, therefore survival rates were low.

Kites start looking for food when they wake up hungry in the morning.  At Gigrin food is put out in the afternoon, so any bird that has fed well doesn’t need to come here for more.  But those that are still hungry, know where to find supper.

The spectacle

Kites begin gathering over the site an hour or so before feeding time. It looks impressive then, and you can hear their long drawn-out whistling calls. When everybody is settled in the hides, a tractor appears, stops in front of the hide, the driver gets out and starts shovelling lumps of meat onto the ground. Almost immediately, one or two kites swoop in for a closer look, maybe even pick up a piece or two. The tractor moves to another part of the feeding field, and more meat is thrown out. By the now, the number of kites is increasing, and more and more are coming closer. The birds rarely land, just grab a piece of meat in passing. Sometimes one will try to grab a bit from another bird.

The spectacle lasts for 30 minutes or more. As the food is taken, kites begin to drift away, although there are usually still a few hanging around after an hour or more.

Red kites were once the cleaner-uppers of cities and countryside, until someone decided they were vermin.  Then they were persecuted until only a few pairs remained in the isolated hills of Wales.  Following decades of hard work – much of it by volunteers – kite nests were monitored and protected.  The small population meant that there was little genetic diversity, and so this protection was only half the story of their recovery.  The other half came when a bird of German origin, and probably migrating off-course, paired up with a Welsh bird and injected some new blood into the population.  Now, that has been augmented by birds reintroduced elsewhere in the UK from Spain and Sweden.

Red kites are now seen across much of Britain (they occur naturally across the whole of Europe), and I don’t need to go to Gigrin to see them (sometimes one even passes over my garden).  But it’s still worth stopping there occasionally to see this spectacle – it’s about a two-hour drive for me, so a convenient stopping place on a long drive north.

Of course, there are other birds to be seen at Gigrin.  Buzzards (above), crows, rooks, ravens, and jackdaws all regularly join in the feast.  Small birds – finches, sparrows, tits, wagtails, etc – are found around the farm, and particularly at the feeders by the car park.

Wildlife trail around the farm

In summer, there is a trail around the farm. It leads past the top of the kite feeding station to a small hide overlooking a small wetland. Then across a field or two to some high level ponds, where a path branches off to up onto the moorland. You then wind back across a couple of fields and down through a small dingle to the kite feeding hides. There is a badger sett on the farm, and polecats and otters have both been seen recently.

You may also see birds such as goshawk, black cap, dipper, hen harriers, redpoll, skylark, kestrel, woodcock, curlew, merlin and many more.

The small cafe is a good place to round off your visit – particularly on a cold winter’s day.

Gigrin Farm website – check opening times before visiting.

Other red kite feeding stations

Wales – Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Station

Opened in 2002 by a local partnership with support from the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Welsh Red Kite Trust and various other notable wildlife organisations and individuals. Visitors may sit in the specially built hide only feet away from diving birds and observe them competing naturally for the food provided by the feeding centre at regular times throughout  the year.

Wales – Bwlch Nant yr Arian

In 1999, Bwlch Nant yr Arian became a red kite feeding station as part of a programme to protect the small number of red kites in the area at that time. Nowadays, the red kites are fed by the lake at Bwlch Nant yr Arian every day at 2pm in winter (GMT) and at 3pm in summer (BST). The Barcud Trail (an easy access route around the lake) and the café offer fantastic views of this spectacle. There is also a bird hide overlooking the feeding area.

Scotland – Argaty Red Kites

A feeding site in Perthshire

England – Chilterns

A useful leaflet about where to see kites in the English countryside of the Chilterns (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire).

Covid-19 restrictions

Most sites now require advance booking to ensure that only a safe number of people can visit a site at a time. Details are on the individual websites, along with feeding times and details of all facilities available.

The websites of several other feeding stations are not available now, so these are no longer listed here.

If you come across other red kite feeding stations, in any European country, please let me know and I’ll add them to this page.

Welsh Kite Trust

The charity dedicated to the conservation of the red kite and other raptor species in Wales. Information about how to report a wing-tagged bird,

Bookshop

Where to watch birds in Wales – out of print – 5th edition due in 2022

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Other posts about Wales

Visiting Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire

Skomer Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire is a fantastic place for puffins and other seabirds, seals, plants, and a generally good day out. This article is about how to get there.

Visiting Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire

Photo above: Looking across Jack Sound from the Deer Park.  The first lump of land is Middleholm.  Beyond that is Skomer, with the Mew Stone to the left (south), and the smaller Garland Stone to the right (north).

For a virtual tour of Skomer Island – read this article

Puffin carrying sand-eels back to the nest

What you’ll see there

Skomer Island, off the tip of Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales is a true wildlife haven.  With no ground predators such as foxes, rats or stoats, the island provides a safe haven for ground-nesting birds such as puffins and Manx shearwaters, as well as for other seabirds that nest out in the open.  In the autumn is is a safe place for grey seals to have their pups.

Best time for seabirds – May – July, though fulmars and shearwaters are still feeding chicks until September

Best time for other birds – April-May and August-October migration periods when anything can turn up.

Best time for seals – can be seen in all months, but pups are born between August and November.

Best time for flowers – May – August

Best time for insects – May – September


About Skomer

Grey seals hauled out for an afternoon nap on a rock in South Haven

How to get there

It’s only a ten-minute boat crossing to reach Skomer.

2021 – Due to Covid restrictions, you now have to book in advance. Details are here. If you don’t have a ticket, you are unlikely to get on the boat.

Parking is still at Martin’s Haven National Trust car park, so you need either a National Trust membership card, or some cash.

As well as puffins, guillemots, razorbills and Manx shearwaters, there are other species of bird breeding on Skomer – great black-back, lesser black-back and herring gulls, kittiwakes, cormorants, shags, oystercatchers, curlew (but only one or two pairs), land birds such as wheatears, meadow pipits, rock pipits, blackbirds, jackdaw, crow, raven, chough, and raptors such as peregrine, buzzard, little owl and short-eared owl.

The Pembrokeshire Islands are home to about half a million pairs of Manx Shearwaters. These birds are nocturnal on land (to avoid predation by gulls) and are most easily seen by either staying overnight on Skomer (contact the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales) or by taking an evening “Seabird Spectacular” on the Dale Princess.

Rabbits, woodmice, common shrews and the Skomer vole (a subspecies of bank vole) all live on the island, while around 150-200 grey seals have their pups on the beaches each autumn.

Manx Shearwaters gathering offshore, waiting to return to their nests after dark

My articles elsewhere about Skomer

Watching puffins and other seabirds

Skomer in May


Other articles about Wales