Following up on Chris Watson’s report (and advertisement) regarding
Letter-winged Kites, I wish to ask the tour organisers and participants to
exercise great caution in the nest areas. Disturbance by humans was responsible
for over 40% of complete nest failures in the a comprehensive study on breeding
raptors (by Craighead and Craighead (1956)), by very far the greatest cause of
nest failure. 300 metres is a safe distance with most species, but it may not
be even enough for Letter-winged Kites of for the particular individuals
involved (birds do have ‘personalities’). For example, Wedge-tailed Eagles
require a much greater distance.
I am aware that a distance of 300 m or more seems at first to be not useful to
get the perfect view or photograph. However, a couple of basic rules may
provide results nevertheless: stay together as a tight group around the
vehicle, and be patient. Chances are that the birds come closer, sooner or
Even if the birds don’t seem to be disturbed at all by (too close) observers,
they may abandon the nest and the site within the next few days, unnoticed of
course by the observers who in turn get the impression that their behaviour was
perfectly fine. Nests (and eggs!) are most like to be abandoned during the
period between nest site selection and hatching. If the LWKs near Alice Springs
are laying within the next few days, the eggs may hatch around the end of
August. This means that visiting the site in question should not be considered
before September. Patience, yet again.
Please don’t go closer than 300 metres. The life of these birds is difficult,
and we can easily make it much more difficult, even impossible.
Last and certainly not least, if you go and get to see Letter-winged Kites,
enjoy it! What a fantastic and unique species!
Grey Falcon research
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