NINE years ago you would have never spotted one in the skies above south Bucks.

But now thousands of red kites can be seen gliding over the Chiltern hills and throughout the Wycombe district.

Numbers of the distinctive birds of prey are thriving after the RSPB set about re-introducing them to England and Scotland.

The majestic birds, well-known for their forked tail and red coloured plumage, were driven to extinction at the end of the 19th century.

A handful of them managed to survive in Wales but in 1989 the RSPB made a start on boosting their numbers in the rest of the UK.

The Chilterns was picked as the first area to become home to the specially flown in chicks from Spain.

The Chilterns Conservation Board worked with the bird charity and now the reintroduction programme is being hailed as a soaring success, with hundreds of chicks being born and raised in the area every year.

Cathy Rose, activities and education officer for the board, said: "It was a good area from a geographical point of view.

"The hills provide good lift for the birds, it's an area of outstanding natural beauty so it has protection and won't be developed and it supports a huge range of other wildlife, which ultimately becomes food for the kites."

Cathy estimated there were now around 350 breeding pairs of kites in the Chilterns, which were doing "fantastically well", and said between 1992 and 2002 1,254 chicks were reared.

They can now be spotted within a 15 miles radius from Stokenchurch and are often spotted soaring in residential areas and above the M40.

Cathy added: "It's a fantastic conservation success story. These days I say to people I come from the Chilterns and people say that's where the red kites are and so they have become a flagship for the area."

At the moment, however it could seem the kites have shied away from the limelight as they are hiding out in the trees while they shed their feathers and grow new ones.

But residents should expect to see them back in the skies in the next month.

The Friends of the Red Kites is a public donation scheme, which helps fund the board's work with the birds.

For more information about the scheme or the board call Cathy on 01844 355506 or click on the link below.