The incredible story of a Red Kite called ‘Red Philip’ and the dedication of the Friends of Red Kites volunteers.

On 8th January 2020 the Friends of Red Kite [FoRK] announced that, sadly, one of their ‘founder’ Red Kites, known as ‘Red Philip’, had to be euthanised after suffering from a serious injury.

Red Philip was hatched in the Chilterns in 2004 and was transferred to the Derwent Valley later that year where he was fitted with wing-tag number 15. He was one of the first 20 Red Kite chicks to be tagged and released from the National Trust property at Gibside, Gateshead, as part of the Northern Kites Project. He was named by pupils at the St Philip Neri Primary School in Dunston, which adopted him as part of a special scheme for 107 schools.

In the spring of 2005, Red Philip set up a ‘first-year territory’ with a female, called ‘Flag’, however, they did not breed that year. In April 2006, he once again paired up with Flag. They successfully built a nest and in late May hatched the first Red Kite chick in the region after an absence of 170 years. The chick was successfully raised and fledged in late July. The young chick, although not wing-tagged, was nicknamed ‘Geordie’.

Flag and Red Philip successfully bred again in both 2007 and 2008. Two chicks were successfully raised in each year.

In 2009, Red Philip and Flag refurbished their 2008 nest and hatched a further two chicks, but failed to successfully fledge them. The chicks appeared to have fallen from the nest; one was recovered from below the nest and taken in to re-hab.

In March 2010, Red Philip and Flag started to refurbish their old nest, however this was then abandoned and Flag partnered with another male called ‘Thunderbird’. Flag and Thunderbird have remained partners to date.

In 2011, Red Philip found a new partner called ‘Swift’ and together, they built a new nest within his territory in the Derwent Walk Country Park. They successfully fledged three chicks, the first brood of 3 for Red Philip. Two of the chicks were wing-tagged however, the third chick was too small for tagging. It is not uncommon for Red Kites to ‘decorate’ their nests and this nest was found to contain the head of a soft toy seal.

In 2012 Red Philip and Swift raised one chick.

In March 2013, Red Philip appeared to be on his own. Swift had left him for an untagged male holding the adjacent territory. Red Philip unsuccessfully tried to woo her back by visiting her whilst the male was away. Despite refurbishing his nest, and calling continuously, Red Philip failed to attract a mate.

He had better success in 2014 when he attracted a new partner, a Yorkshire female called ‘Soar’, and built a nest near Hagg Hill Farm. Together they successfully raised two chicks.

Unfortunately in March 2015 Red Philip was injured in a road accident at Winlaton. The RSPCA were called and he was taken to their expert avian vet at Morpeth where he was X-rayed. Whilst there were no fractures he had suffered some tissue damage and there was some internal bleeding. Following a course of treatment and a period of recuperation he was re-released back into the wild on his territory. Soar, although initially seen at the nest site, appeared to have deserted him. Throughout the remainder of the year, Red Philip was seen on a number of occasions near his territory. He continued to hold the territory during 2016 and 2017 however, the Raptor Workers found no evidence of a nest during the breeding season and a thorough check during the weeks that they would expect to find newly fledged young confirmed that he had not bred during both years.

In February 2017, Red Philip was once again been involved in a minor accident, having flown into the window of a bungalow near Barlow. He appeared slightly dazed but, after perching on the wheelbarrow for a while, he flew off again. It is believed he had been ‘hunting’ a swallow motif on the window, ironically designed to prevent birds crashing in to windows.

Red Philip was seen displaying and built a nest in 2019, however once again he failed to attract a mate and the nest was unused.

At the end of 2019, Red Philip, aged 15, was found in the Gibside Estate in a distressed condition. He was taken to the vets, Robson & Prescott of Morpeth. Examination of the previous injuries that he had sustained showed signs of arthritis and the vet determined that he would be unable to fly very far without considerable pain and discomfort. Reluctantly, the decision was taken to euthanise him. Red Philip’s body was, fittingly, buried on the Gibside Estate.

Red Philip was an iconic bird being one of the 94 Red Kite reintroduced in the Derwent Valley between 2004 and 2006. He had a full life with three partners [previously the theory was that Red Kite pair for life] and fathered 11 chicks. Red Philip had a number of followers; some of whom have been in tears after hearing of his demise. One member claimed that he was regarded as a member of the family.

Fifteen years after the first re-introduction, the local Red Kite population is faring well in the core area. Unfortunately away from the core area they remain under pressure and there is no doubt that persecution is preventing them from expanding their range. Red Kites are primarily scavengers, actively cleaning the countryside. They do not represent a risk to people, domestic animals or game interests. However, since 2010 seven Red Kites have been found poisoned or shot. Sadly, there will have been many more undetected victims of crime during that period.

Images of Red Philip, courtesy of Paul Danielson.

For further information please contact Harold Dobson [FoRK Media Relations]

Mobile: 07801 907832 or email: