Successful reintroduction programmes are usually defined by an increase in size and extent of the new population after a given period of time. Among studies of birds, these population estimates are often focused on the monitoring of nesting attempts and productivity. For many raptors, however, this approach can overlook a large number of non-breeding adults and immature birds leading to underestimation of population size and reproductive potential. A more thorough approach is to generate assessments of total population size. In this study we used a line transect survey methodology and multiple covariate distance sampling to assess the change in population size of a reintroduced raptor species, Red Kite Milvus milvus, across a 2600 km2 area of central southern England. Surveys were performed in spring and autumn between 2011 and 2016 in an area 45 km to the south of the initial English reintroduction project which started 25 years previously. Survey routes avoided using roads where possible to counter the potential attraction that such landscape features may have (e.g. increased food availability, perches etc.). The use of roads was unavoidable in some instances; however, we found no evidence of Red Kite attraction to these landscape features when comparing distances of observations from stretches along roads with 5000 randomly-generated locations. Distance of detection was influenced by bird activity (greatest when the bird was on the ground or interacting with other birds) and extent of woodland but not by time of day, seasonality or when comparing between years. During the five years, estimated population size doubled from approximately 490 to 1100 individuals; a density of one Red Kite per 2.5–3.5 km2. This suggests an increase in the breeding population in the study area from c. 95 to 174 pairs. During the study, rate of population growth was not uniform; rapid growth was recorded in years two and three followed by a slowing over the last two years of the study. While an overall increase in population and availability of suitable nesting habitat across south-eastern England indicates that there is still potential for expansion of the Red Kite breeding population, other factors are potentially limiting this growth.
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Vol. 54 • No. 2