Up to 30 young Red Kites were introduced to the wild in Co. Wicklow - in a programme to restore this native bird of prey to Ireland.
Ireland's big birds of prey were all lost over the past 200 years, due to human activities.
However, since 2000, a series of projects have begun to address this.
"These wonderful birds became extinct in Ireland more than 200 years ago because of habitat change and persecution" - said Mr John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government - who was present as the birds were released.
"From today, they can be seen again in the skies above County Wicklow. This project to reintroduce the red kite shows what we can achieve here in Ireland in terms of protecting and enhancing our natural heritage."
The Minister added - "The kites' return is a significant addition to our biodiversity and a wonderful complement to the golden eagle and white-tailed eagle restoration projects. This work is at the core of one of the heritage elements in the Programme for Government and I am delighted to see this early progress."
The Wicklow Red Kite Project is a partnership between the Golden Eagle Trust, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust. It is funded by grants from the Minister's Department and the Heritage Council. The kite chicks came from Wales.
The Project Manager, Damian Clarke said - "As a native of Wicklow I am delighted that this county has been chosen as the first release site for the reintroduction of this spectacular bird to Ireland.
"I look forward to working closely with local farmers, landowners, community and recreational interests.
"In future years, these beautiful birds will become another tourist attraction in the Garden of Ireland, as they have done in Wales."
Tony Cross, of the Welsh Kite Trust, said - "We are incredibly excited at this collaboration, as it takes us into the next stage of the recovery of the Red Kite's fortunes. It is great that Welsh birds are being used, as they must be the most similar genetically to what Ireland had in the past. It also gives the project a nice Celtic link, which has gone down well with Welsh farmers who have generously allowed some of 'their' birds to be collected."
The Red Kite is a bird of mixed lowland countryside and its primary nesting habitat is woodland.
However, it may spend a large amount of time feeding in farmland and hedgerow.
The birds spend a part of each day soaring above the landscape in order to search for food.
The birds are individually marked with numbered wing tags, so that they can be relocated and their survival monitored. The first sign of breeding behaviour by these Red Kites in Ireland is expected to occur by 2010.
Although the birds are natural scavengers, they feed extensively on earthworms, small mammals - such as rats and rabbits - and birds - such as magpies and other crows. The Red Kite does not present any threat to livestock and, in parts of the UK, they have become major tourist attractions as they perform spectacular aerial displays.
Good views of flying Red Kites can be expected at various locations in Co. Wicklow over the next few months. Any information on sightings of the birds - including date, locality and identifying features - should be sent to the Project Manager, Damian Clarke (email@example.com).
The Red Kite is so-called because of its reddish brown body and tail. Its tail is deeply forked, making it an easily recognisable bird. Kites have a wingspan of up to 1.8m.
Kites normally breed in their second or third year. They build stick nests in trees - their nests are lined with wool. Prior to laying, kites often decorate their nests with scraps of cloth and paper, prompting Shakespeare to write in A Winters Tale - 'When the kite builds, look to lesser linen'. They lay 2-3 eggs.
The Irish name for the Red Kite is An Préachan Ceirteach - the 'Cloth Kite'. This name is derived from the habit of stealing cloths mentioned above. Due to their small feet and weak beaks, kites are not particularly powerful predators.
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