The twenty-third of March, 2011: juggling the wind, and retiring ignominiously before an angry hen

I’ve just spent ten minutes watching two red kites perform aerobatics in the sunshine over north Leeds (all thanks to the Yorkshire Red Kites project, although I suppose some of the credit should go to the red kites, too: well done, fellers).

So it’s back to Richard Mabey:

And there they were. They could have been any big birds at a distance, drifting in the grey sky. Then they lifted up, flexed, soared, two taut crossbows against the leafless ridge-woods. They glided towards me – no hurry, just riding the wind, sliding across the eddies. They came close, and I could see the rufous plumage ruffling on their bodies and tails.

They were exalted, falling out of the sky like peregrines, skimming the fields, stooping, spiralling, stalling, their forked tails fine-tuning their balance so effortlessly that it looked as though they were juggling the wind.

Describing the Chiltern kites (forebears of the Yorkshire ones), in Nature Cure (Chatto & Windus, 2005).

I wrote an article on the Leeds kites a while back for Bird Watching magazine – you can read it here. I think my second favourite of the quotes I dug up for that piece was from Pliny:

The kite seems, by the movement of its tail, to have taught mankind the art of steering – nature pointing out in the air what is necessary in the sea.

But my favourite is the withering analysis of the Rev CA Johns:

Though larger than the noble Falcons, it is far inferior to them in daring and muscular strength; cowardly in attacking the strong, pitiless to the weak. It rarely assails a bird on the wing, but takes its prey on the ground, where nothing inferior to itself in courage seems to come amiss to it… it carries off also goslings, ducklings, and chickens, though it retires ignominiously before an angry hen.

From British Birds In Their Haunts, JA Owen ed. (Routledge, 1931).


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