Rare letter winged kite cared for on KI, released in Queensland

A critically endangered letter winged kite, nursed back to health on Kangaroo Island, has successfully been released into a wild flock of kites in north Queensland.

The rare kite was rescued after being found disorientated at Mt Gambier and then cared for by Dave and Leeza Irwin, owners of Raptor Domain on KI.

The Irwins are over the moon with the release outcome for the very rare letter winged kite that had been in their care since being found on the ground in a very bad state near Mt Gambier.

"The whole operation would not have been possible without the assistance of the numerous people and organisations that were involved," Leeza said.

"Over the years Raptor Domain has had the pleasure of rescuing and releasing many raptors back to the wild.

"But never before has a release been such an expensive and difficult task. There were so many things that needed to be taken into account and implemented."

The letter winged kite is one of the very few raptor species that live together as a flock and are the only diurnal raptor that hunts at night.

The kite usually follows population eruptions of native rats and mice, which is a common occurrence after good rains.

"We had to consider the release location, food availability and where there was currently a flock of letter winged kites," she said.

"Not an easy task as sadly there is drought in a lot of the areas where they can usually be found. There are less than a thousand left in the wild, so it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack."

The kite, affectionately called Ruby, was cared for by keepers at Raptor Domain since middle of November 2018. Ruby was housed in a special shade clothed area on the Irwin's front veranda.

"It was an amazing and surreal experience to be having your breakfast while looking at one of Australia's rarest raptors," Leeza said.

Fortunately with the help of a very passionate carer from Townsville, Deb Carter, who runs Fight 4 Flight rescue centre, the rescuers were able to enlist a group of researches and bird twitchers to look out for a flock of letter winged kites.

"We felt the best idea was to fly Ruby from KI to Townsville, so she was closest to a suitable release sight," Leeza said.

"She was cared for by Deb Carter for a couple of months while we waited for the twitchers to get back to us with the sighting of a flock."

Luckily while the Irwin's were visiting Townsville this month to meet Deb Carter and see how Ruby was doing, exciting news came though.

A group bird watchers, known as "twitchers", had spotted a flock of nesting letter winged kites, west of Winton.

In no time at all, the Irwins were organising for Deb and her helper Kristy Appleton to travel to the site about 1000 km away for their base.

"After an eventful trip Deb and Kristy finally found the flock," Leeza said

"Ruby was released from the box, she flew strongly off into the sun set and was approached by another kite. Who knows it might be the beginning of a beautiful relationship."

Deb Carter said it was long, grueling trip on rough dusty roads to get the flock of kites, but well worth it considering the species was critically endangered with less than 1000 individuals remaining.

The release program was financed with donations from the many caring visitors who have visited Raptor Domain, the environmental education and rehabilitation centre on Kangaroo Island.

"It could not have been a better outcome for our Ruby," she said. "This is our job satisfaction and why we do what we do."

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