Birds of prey are terrorising Henley-on-Thames by attacking people and stealing their food.
A two-year-old boy was left with blood pouring from his hand when a huge bird – thought to be a red kite – with 5ft wide wings swooped down to grab his biscuit.
In another attack in the town, a woman was forced to flee indoors when a red kite, with needle-sharp talons, tried to snatch smoked mackerel from her salad.
The attacks in the Oxfordshire town have led to experts pleading with people not to ‘tame’ the kites – which resemble eagles – by feeding them scraps in back gardens.
Hannah Bird’s two-year-old son Frankie was with his grandmother Julie, waiting to collect Frankie’s older brother Cody, eight, from Valley Road Primary School.
His grandmother had given Frankie a custard cream biscuit when the kite swooped down.
Frankie Bird, 2, was left with an injured hand after a red kite swooped and snatched a biscuit from his hand as attacks by the large birds of prey are on the rise in Henley-on-Thames
Frankie was taken to hospital for a check-up after sustaining these injuries to his hand
Its talons or its razor-sharp beak scratched the toddler’s hand as it snatched the biscuit.
Frankie, who was sitting in his pushchair, was left terrified as the bird came back moments later before flying away again,
His mother, who was working from home in Highlands Park, took him to Townlands Memorial Hospital, where his right hand was bandaged.
They returned the following day for a check-up and were told the scratches would soon heal.
Mrs Bird, 33, told the Henley Standard: ‘The scratches happened when it came down the first time but it came at them again because it dropped the biscuit and it didn’t know where it had gone.
‘Frankie’s granny tried to protect him and eventually it picked the biscuit up off the ground and flew away.’
Her sister-in-law Amy works at the school as a nanny and came out when she found out what had happened.
Mrs Bird added: ‘Luckily I was working from home and we were able to get him to Townlands quickly. We waited for about an hour him to see the nurse and she was absolutely amazing.’
Residents in Henley-on-Thames believe red kites (pictured) are becoming more bold because people are feeding them in the hope of getting some good photographs of the birds of prey
Frankie received a teddy bear and a rhino sticker from the hospital for his bravery and enjoyed pancakes after he got home that evening. Mrs Bird said the staff put her son at ease after his ordeal.
Mrs Bird, who is married to Liam, also 33, said she was told at the hospital that incidents like this involving kites were becoming more common.
‘It seems to be happening because more people are feeding them. I’ve heard the kites go through the bins at the school as well.
‘They are supposed to be bouncing back, which I think is brilliant, but they do seem to be getting more brazen.’
In the second attack, Anna Howell was enjoying a meal in the garden when the red kite dive-bombed her.
Anna, who lives with husband Trevor in Makins Road, Henley, said she had no idea one was hovering as she ate her al fresco meal.
‘It swooped down and skimmed the top of my head, trying to pinch the smoked mackerel from my salad.
‘I retreated indoors and it then tried the same thing on Trevor.
Reports were made of birds snatching buns and even steaks from BBQs in Henley (pictured)
Despite persecution, there are now more than 2,000 red kites across the UK
Red kites can grow up to 66cm in length with a wingspan of 195cm.
They are known to nest in tall trees, building their nests from twigs and leaves at least 20m off the ground.
At one time confined to Wales as a result of persecution, a reintroduction scheme has brought red kites back to many parts of England and Scotland. Central Wales, central England – especially the Chilterns and central Scotland.
There are now more than 2,000 red kites which are quickly spreading and breeding across the UK.
It is an offence to take, injure or kill a red kite or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young.
It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds close to their nest during the spring breeding season.
Violation of the law can attract fines up to £5,000 per offence and/or a prison sentence of up to six months.
‘While we love watching them, it’s very scary having such a large bird at such close quarters.
‘I mentioned it on our neighbourhood forum and couldn’t believe how many other people have had similar experiences recently.
‘Hot cross buns snatched from people’s hands, steaks snatched from barbecues, one woman hit on the head by the bird’s wing, giving her a headache for several days.
‘We all feel that the problem is that some local people feed the red kites so that they can photograph them close-up. We see the kites swooping down into their gardens.
‘All the advice from wildlife organisations like RSPB is never to feed them.’
Henley is close to the Chiltern hills where a project began in the early 1990s to reintroduce red kites and it’s been so successful they have now spread out across much of England and Wales.
They feed by scavenging, often feasting on road kill and rubbish tips, but they will also swoop down on chicken legs and other leftovers which people throw into their gardens to enjoy the spectacle of watching the birds dive down from the sky, talons outstretched.
The RSPCA has appealed to the public not to feed kites because it encourages them to try to grab food from picnic tables.
Red kites, once one of the commonest birds in the skies over London, were driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the nineteenth century.
A small population survived in Wales, but there was little chance of them repopulating their original areas.
Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns. They started breeding in the Chilterns in 1992 and now there could be over 1,000 breeding pairs in the area.
The reintroduction has been so successful it is not possible to monitor all the nests, so the overall size of the population can only be estimated.
Since 1999, chicks have been taken from the Chilterns to reintroduction sites in other parts of the country and the species is becoming increasingly common.
There are now more than 2,000 red kites which are spreading and breeding across the UK
Karolina Roszkowska from the RSPB said: ‘Red kites are fantastic birds of prey. Even 20 years ago, very few people would have the opportunity to see them.
‘The fact that so many of us now can is a brilliant conservation success we can all celebrate.
‘Red kites are primarily scavengers who travel far and wide in search of food. They rarely have any problem finding dead animals and other things to eat, so there is no need for people to be putting out food for them.
‘Although feeding red kites isn’t illegal, we encourage people not to put meat out in gardens to provide their kites, as there is no need. There is plenty of food for kites, and people can get great views of them in lots of places.
‘They can and will take live prey, notably small mammals such as mice and voles, particularly at certain times of the year.
‘Regular feeding of kites could ultimately lead to an unsustainably high population of red kites, reliant on human hand-outs. It can lead to kites getting used to approaching and taking food from humans.’
If there are too many kites in an area in winter, when people won’t be out in the snow and ice with leftovers for them, the birds could starve and die because there won’t be enough ‘natural’ food for them to scavenge.
A warning on the National Trust website encourages people to watch and photograph red kites but not to offer them ‘any sort of food’.
The trust says: ‘It is not necessary to supplement their natural diet’ warns the trust, whose vast and well-protected country estates have become one of the red kites’ strongholds.
‘It is possible that putting out food could ultimately lead to an unsustainably high population of red kites, reliant on human hand-outs.
‘The birds cannot differentiate between food that is deliberately put out for them and visitors’ picnics.
‘The National Trust, the BTO, the RSPB and the Chilterns Conservation Board all urge the public not to feed red kites.’