Tollie Red Kites: A ‘Birdiful’ Visit

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Tollie Red Kites

Once extinct in England and Scotland, this incredible bird of prey, distinctive with its reddy-brown colour and forked tail, is now thriving. And what’s more, you are almost guaranteed a sighting at the Tollie Red Kites Reserve.

Moreover, it’s not just red kites that you’ll spot at this reserve. There are plenty of smaller birds flitting around and other birds of prey that may grab your attention.

Red kite swooping onto a table to grab cut up meat at Tollie Red kites reserve
Red kite swooping in for the meat on the Tollie Red Kites feeding table

Once a common sight in Britain’s medieval times, red kites suffered a drastic decline due to bounties being paid for their carcasses. The red kites were thought to carry and spread disease and were treated as vermin. As a consequence, in 1871 the red kite became extinct in England.

By 1879 it was extinct in Scotland. In 1903 protection efforts began with only a few pairs of red kites left in remote parts of central Wales.

Today, they are once more gracing British skies after a successful reintroduction and conservation program.

Read on to find out more:

  • Tollie Red Kites Reserve Map
  • What to expect on a visit to the Tollie Red Kites Reserve
  • Other Wildlife at Tollies Red Kites Reserve
  • Tollie Red Kites Visitor Centre
  • Other Nearby Points of Interest

Map of Points of Interest for a Visit to Tollie Red Kites

A Visit to Tollie Red Kites

Even before we arrived at Tollie Red Kite Reserve, we knew we were in Red Kite territory. We’d seen two gracefully soaring through the air over the Muir of Ord (Muir = moorland), where we were house-sitting.

As we approached the reserve, two magnificent red kites sat perched together on a tree in front of us. We stopped to take a photo, but as soon as we opened the car door they were off.

red kite in sky
Red kite soaring above Tollie Red Kite Centre

The feeding of the red kites was taking place at 1.00 pm at the centre. However, we arrived early to walk to nearby Loch Ussie.

The car park at Tollie Red Kites was covered in snow and black ice, but luckily the trail to the loch was mainly snow, so not too slippery.

We saw several red kites pass overhead and spotted a deer grazing by the path.

Path heading towards Loch Ussie
View of snow topped mountains trees and a snowy path
Views along the path to Loch Ussie
Lovely to spot this deer on the path at the Tollie Red Kites Reserve

Back at the red kite centre, we spent an hour or so taking photos of the birds around the feeding stations. Robins, blue tits, long-tailed tits, and great tits were just a few we spotted.

Although the Visitor Centre building was closed due to Covid, the outside viewing area was open and the feeding was still going ahead. At 1.00 pm, volunteers of the RSPB arrived to feed the red kites.

The feeding times when we visited were from 1 pm Thursday to Sunday, but check the feeding times on Tollies Red Kite Facebook page for updated times and opening times.

Tollie Red Kites sign
Robin on fence at Tollie red Kites
Robin sitting pretty at Tollie Red Kites Reserve
Long-tailed tits at one of the many feeding stations at Tollie Red Kites
Sparrow in the snow
Sparrow in the snow
robin in the snow
Little red robin

By the time the meat was laid out on the table for the red kites, there were about 15 people gathered. Most had cameras in hand or on tripods. Many were locals who regularly came to the reserve.

The food not only attracted the red kites, but a local buzzard was also pretty keen and sat on a nearby tree waiting to glide in for the rewards. Many gulls were circling over the feeding station but seemed reluctant to dive into the spread laid out below them.

We waited, cameras poised.

Camera pointed towards the Tollie red kite feeding table
Cameras at the ready at Tollie Red Kites

We both had our cameras on tripods but did take them off a few times as the red kites circled around the area, teasing us with their presence and calling to each other in their high-pitched whistles. The RSPB volunteer went out to the table about four times, over the course of about an hour, adding more meat to entice the kites.

The photographers who were regular visitors were surprised by the length of time it took to coax the kites to swoop in for the food. Some suggested that there were more people behind the outside viewing wall than usual; others that they just weren’t hungry enough.

people with cameras stood behind the viewing wall at Tollie Red Kites
Waiting for the red kites at Tollie Red Kites

One of the volunteers told us that once the gulls go in for the meat, it’s normally ‘game on’. So, each time it looked like the gulls were about to dive down for the meat, all cameras turned towards the feeding table like part of a synchronised swimming performance.

Murmurs of, “Here we go“, trickled through the eager crowd.

We had several false alarms.

Just as my toes started to go numb and my camera battery died… it happened.


Then two gulls swooped.

And by the time it took to wriggle my battery out of the hole in my jacket pocket and pop it into my camera…

It was all over.

Beyond frustration at myself for putting my spare battery in the pocket with a hole in it and the absolute rotten timing of it all, I caught flurries of feathers with birds swooping this way and that. A tangled array of white gulls interspersed with huge red kites with their beautiful forked tails swirling in a mesmerising dance.

Thank goodness one of us was on the ball. Luckily Lars caught it all on camera — or this post would be rather lacking in photos of the Tollie red kites!

red kites and seagull taking food from the feeding table
The gulls spurred the red kites into action
Tollie Red Kite at the feeding table
Ultimate focusred kite swooping
Merged shot of a buzzard making the most of the free food too
Red Kite at the Tollie Red Kites feeding table
Two red kites at he Tollie red kite feeding table
Red kite (left) and buzzard (right)

About the Tollie Red Kite Reserve

The Tollie Red Kite Reserve is about 15 miles northwest of Inverness, in the Northern Highlands of Scotland. It is run by a joint venture between the Brahan Estate and the RSPB.

There is an outside and inside viewing area (Note that the inside Visitor Centre viewing area may be closed due to Covid).

Local abattoirs supply the unwanted off-cuts of meat which volunteers then chop up and freeze for the feeding of the kites.

Address: RSPB Tollie Red Kites Natural Reserve, Dingwall IV7 8HQ

Contact: [email protected]

Tel.No: 01463 715000

Red kite and buzzard

Good to Know for a Visit to Tollies Red Kite Reserve

  • Arrive about half an hour ahead of feeding time to ensure a spot.
  • Enjoy the other birdlife around the centre
  • There is a car park right in the centre
  • Be aware that you may have to wait for the red kites to feed – they sometimes take a while before deciding to come and collect the meat
  • Check your camera battery regularly;)
robin puffed up and looking grumpy
Remember to keep an eye out for the little guys too

Interesting Sites Close By Tollie Red Kites Reserve

Brahan Dell and Arbetorum

Just a few minutes’ drive south of the Tollie Red Kites Reserve is the entrance to the Brahan Estate Dell. There is a small car park just by the entrance gate, and the Dell is a lovely place to take a walk to admire its ancient trees and the Ross-shire countryside. You’ll also likely spot red kites soaring in the sky above.

Not only is the Dell an NTSC (National Tree Collections of Scotland) site, it is part of the Brahan Estate, once home to the famous Jacobite chiefs of Clan McKenzie. The former owners of the Brahan Estate were the Seaforths (Chiefs of Clan McKenzie).

But what has made the estate even more interesting is one of the Seaforth estate workers of the 17th century, known as the Brahan seer. Apparently, the seer, Kenneth McKenzie, predicted many events that were to happen to the Seaforths, including the death of Lady Caroline Seaforth McKenzie at the hands of her sister.

Brahan Dell image of trees and snow on ground
Brahan Dell with low-lying fog in the clearing

19th Century Dog Cemetery

Also at the Brahan Dell, you will find a 19th-century dog cemetery. The gravestones, including one with a sculptured dog laying across the top, date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many record the dog’s name and the date it died. One that we happened upon had the following inscription:

In memory of Cruiser. For 15 years the faithful friend and companion of Colonel Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth. He accompanied the 9th Lancers throughout the Afghan Campaigns 1878-79-80, including the march from Kabul to Kandahar. Born 1878, Died 1893.

Gravestone with a concrete stone sculpture of dog laying across the top
19th-century dog cemetery
Two dog gravestones
‘Little Pete’ gravestone
Dog cemetery in Brahan Dell with sun streaming through the trees
19th-century dog cemetery at Brahan Dell

Tollie Red Kites …That’s a Wrap

If you drive or walk around the area of the reserve you are very likely to see some of the red kites soaring above you or perched high in the trees. However, a visit to Tollie Red Kites increases your chances of seeing these magnificent raptors and watching them feed is an incredible experience, particularly if you love wildlife. The little birds are fantastic to watch too. Just a short drive takes you to the interesting Brahan Dell with its mysterious seer tale and a walk in the woods to the old dog cemetery.

If you take a visit here, we’d love to see your pics and let us know what you think of the places we mentioned.


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