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‘Playing dead’ red kite returned to the wild near Aberaeron

A red kite who sought to trick RSPCA officers by repeatedly “playing dead” has been returned to the wild after a period of rehabilitation with the animal welfare charity.

RSPCA Cymru was contacted by vets after a member of the public brought the red kite to them, saying he had been found caught up in fencing and in a collapsed state, and was found near Aberaeron.

He was transferred to wildlife specialists in the West Wales area for a period of rehabilitation, before a heart-warming return to the wild in an area near to where he was found. The bird was released on 18 February, two days after coming into the RSPCA’s care, with the release captured on video.

During rehabilitation, the red kite continually tried to con RSPCA animal rescue officer (ARO) Ellie West by pretending to be dead whenever she checked on him. This deception is known as thanatosis, and can be used by some birds as a defense mechanism.

ARO West deployed her own form of trickery to monitor the kite’s progress – by positioning mirrors so she could check on the kite without being spotted, because otherwise he would play dead as soon as he was spotted!

Following the kite’s return to the wild, she said: “Red kites are absolutely fascinating birds – and this one was certainly a tricky customer, and kept trying to have me on by playing dead!

“Thankfully, I was a good match for this trickery – known as thanatosis, or ‘apparent death’.

“I set up mirrors, so we could safely check on the kite from a distance and fortunately the bird was fine despite his ordeal and was soon ready to be returned to the wild, near to where he was found in the Aberaeron area.

“As this red kite took playing dead to extremes, we had to handle him when he was released – otherwise it could have taken a very long time! Thankfully, the red kite was safely returned to the wild, in what was another happy ending for RSPCA Cymru and for a member of this nation’s wonderful wildlife population.”

Should you wish to support the work of the RSPCA, you can donate online. More information about the RSPCA’s work with wildlife, including wild birds, is also available on the RSPCA website.

Thanks to Chris O’Brien

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