Online Encyclopedia

KITE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 840 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
KITE,' the Falco milvus of Linnaeus and Milvus ictinus of modern ornithologists, once probably the most familiar bird of prey in Great Britain, and now one of the rarest. Three or four hundred years ago foreigners were struck with its abundance in the streets of London. It was doubtless the scavenger in ordinary of that and other large towns (as kindred species now are in Eastern lands), except where its place was taken by the raven; for Sir Thomas Browne (c. 1662) wrote of the latter at Norwich—" in good plentie about the citty which makes so few kites to be seen hereabout." John Wolley has well remarked of the modern Londoners that few " who see the paper toys hovering over the parks in fine days of summer, have any idea that the bird from which they derive their name used to float all day in hot weather high over the heads of their ancestors." Even at the beginning of the 19th century the kite formed a feature of many ' In O.E. is cyta; no related word appears in cognate languages. Glede, cognate with " glide," is also another English name. a rural landscape in England, as they had done in the days when the poet Cowper wrote of them. But an evil time soon came upon the species. It must have been always hated by the henwife, but the resources of civilization in the shape of the gun and the gin were denied to her. They were, however, employed with fatal zeal by the gamekeeper; for the kite, which had long afforded the supremest sport to the falconer, was now left friend-less,"' and in a very few years it seems to have been exterminated throughout the greater part of England, certain woods in the Western Midlands, as well as Wales, excepted. In these latter a small remnant still exists; but the well-wishers of this beautiful species are naturally chary of giving information that might lead to its further persecution. In Scotland there is no reason to suppose that its numbers suffered much diminution until about 1835, or even later, when the systematic destruction of "vermin" on so many moors was begun. In Scotland, however, it is now as much restricted to certain districts as in England or Wales, and those districts it would be most inexpedient to indicate. The kite is, according to its sex, from 25 to 27 in. in length, about one half of which is made up by its deeply forked tail, capable of great expansion, and therefore a powerful rudder, enabling the bird while soaring on its wide wings, more than 5 ft. in extent, to direct its circling course with scarcely a movement that is apparent to the spectator below. Its general colour is pale reddish-brown or cinnamon, the head being greyish-white, but almost each feather has the shaft dark. The tail feathers are broad, of a light red, barred with deep brown, and furnish the salmon fisher with one of the choicest materials of his "flies." The nest, nearly always built in the crotch of a large tree, is formed of sticks intermixed with many strange substances collected as chance may offer, but among them rags 2 seem always to have a place. The eggs, three or four in number, are of a dull white, spotted and blotched with several shades of brown, and often lilac. It is especially mentioned by old authors that in Great Britain the kite was resident throughout the year; whereas on the Continent it is one of the most regular and marked migrants, stretching its wings towards the south in autumn, wintering in Africa, and returning in spring to the land of its birth. There is a second European species, not distantly related, the Milvus migrans or M. ater of most authors,' smaller in size, with a general dull blackish-brown plumage and a less forked tail. In some districts this is much commoner than the red kite, and on one occasion it has appeared in England. Its habits are very like those of the species already described, but it seems to be more addicted to fishing. Nearly allied to this black kite are the M. aegyptius of Africa, the M. govinda (the common pariah kite ' George, third earl of Orford, died in 1791, and Colonel Thornton, who with him had been the latest follower of this highest branch of the art of falconry, broke up his hawking establishment not many years after. There is no evidence that the pursuit of the kite was in England or any other country reserved to kings or privileged persons, but the taking of it was quite beyond the powers of the ordinary trained falcons, and in older days practically became limited to those of the sovereign. Hence the kite had attached to it, especially in France, the epithet of " royal," which has still survived in the specific appellation of regalis applied to it by many ornithologists. The scandalous work of Sir Antony Weldon (Court and Character of King James, p. 104) bears witness to the excellence of the kite as a quarry in an amusing story of the " British Solomon," whose master-falconer, Sir Thomas Monson, being determined to outdo the performance of the French king's falconer, who, when sent to England to show sport, " could not kill one kite, ours being more magnanimous than the French kite," at last succeeded, after an outlay of £u000, in getting a cast of hawks that took nine kites running—" never missed one." On the strength of this, James was induced to witness a flight at Royston, " but the kite went to such a mountee as all the field lost sight of kite anti hawke and all, and neither kite nor hawke were either seen or heard of to this present." 2 Thus justifying the advice of Shakespeare's Autolycus (Winter's Tale, iv. 3)—" When the kite builds, look to lesser linen "—very necessary in the case of the laundresses in olden time, when the bird commonly frequented their drying-grounds. 3 Dr R. Bowdler Sharpe (Cat. Birds Brit. Mus. i. 322) calls it M. korschun, but the figure of S. G. Gmelin's Accipiter Korschun, whence the name is taken, unquestionably represents the moor-buzzard (Circus aeruginosus).of India),' the M. melanotis of Eastern Asia, and the M. affinis and M. isurus; the last is by some authors removed to another genus or sub-genus as Lophoictinia, and is peculiar to Australia, while M. affinis also occurs in Ceylon, Burma, and some of the Malay countries as well. All these may be considered true kites, while those next to be mentioned are more aberrant forms. First there is Elanus, the type of which is E. caeruleus, a beautiful little bird, the black-winged kite of English authors, that comes to the south of Europe from Africa, and has several congeners—E. axillaris and E. scriptus of Australia being most worthy of notice. An extreme development of this form is found in the African Nauclerus riocourii, as well as in Elanoides furcatus, the swallow-tailed kite, a widely-ranging bird in America, and remarkable for its length of wing and tail, which gives it a marvellous power of flight, and serves to explain the unquestionable fact of its having twice appeared in Great Britain. To Elanus also Ictinia, another American form, is allied, though perhaps more remotely, and it is represented by I. mississippiensis, the Mississippi kite, which is by some considered to be but the northern race of the Neotropical I. plumbea. Gempsonyx, Rostrhamus and Cymindis, all belonging to the Neotropical region, complete the series of forms that seem to compose the sub-family Milvinae, though there may be doubt about the last, and some systematists would thereto add the perns or honey-buzzards, Perninae. (A. N.) KITE-FLYING, the art of sending up into the air, by means of the wind, light frames of varying shapes covered with paper or cloth (called kites, after the bird—in German Drache, dragon), which are attached to long cords or wires held in the hand or wound on a drum. When made in the common diamond form, or triangular with a semicircular head, kites usually have a pendulous tail appended for balancing purposes. The tradition is that kites were invented by Archytas of Tarentum four centuries before the Christian era, but they have been in use among Asiatic peoples and savage tribes like the Maoris of New Zealand from time immemorial. Kite-flying has always been a national pastime of the Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Tonkinese, Annamese, Malays and East Indians. It is less popular among the peoples of Europe. The origin of the sport, although obscure, is usually ascribed to religion. With the Maoris it still retains a distinctly religious character, and the ascent of the kite is accompanied by a chant called the kite-song. The Koreans attribute its origin to a general, who, hundreds of years ago, inspirited his troops by sending up a kite with a lantern attached, which was mistaken by his army for a new star and a token of divine succour. Another Korean general is said to have been the first to put the kite to mechanical uses by employing one to span a stream with a cord, which was then fastened to a cable and formed the nucleus of a bridge. In Korea, Japan and China, and indeed throughout Eastern Asia, even the tradespeople may be seen indulging in kite-flying while waiting for customers. Chinese and Japanese kites are of many shapes, such as birds, dragons, beasts and fishes. They vary in size, but are often as much as 7 ft. in height or breadth, and are constructed of bamboo strips covered with rice paper or very thin silk. In China the ninth day of the ninth month is " Kites' Day," when men and boys of all classes betake themselves to neighbouring eminences and. fly their kites. Kite-fighting is a feature of the pastime in Eastern Asia. The cord near the kite is usually stiffened with a mixture of glue and crushed glass or porcelain. The kite-flyer manceuvres to get his kite to windward of that of his adversary, then allows his cord to drift against his enemy's, and by a sudden jerk to cut it through and bring its kite to grief. The Malays possess a large variety of kites, mostly without tails. The Sultan of Johor sent to the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893 a collection of fifteen different kinds. Asiatic musical kites bear one or more perforated reeds or bamboos which emit a plaintive sound that can be heard for great distances. The ignorant, believing that these kites frighten away evil spirits, often keep them flying all night over their houses. ' The Brahminy kite of India, Haliastur Indus, seems to be rather a fishing eagle. There are various metaphorical uses of the term " kite-flying," such as in commercial slang, when " flying a kite " means raising money on credit (cf. " raising the wind "), or in political slang for seeing " how the wind blows." And " flying-kites," in nautical language, are the topmost sails. Kite-flying for scientific purposes began in the middle of the 18th century. In 1752 Benjamin Franklin made his memorable kite experiment, by which he attracted electricity from the air and demonstrated the electrical nature of lightning. A more systematic use of kites for scientific purposes may, however, be said to date from the experiments made in the last quarter of the 19th century. (E. B.) Meteorological Use.—Many European and American meteorological services employ kites regularly, and obtain information not only of the temperature, but also of the humidity and velocity of the air above. The kites used are mostly modifications of the so-called box-kites, invented by L. Hargrave. Roughly these kites may be said to resemble an ordinary box with the two ends removed, and also the middle part of each of the four sides. The original Hargrave kite, the form generally used, has a rectangular section; in' Russia a semicircular section with the curved part facing the wind is most in favour; in England the diamond-shaped section is preferred for meteorological purposes owing to its simplicity of construction. Stability depends on a multitude of small details of construction, and long practice and experience are required to make a really good kite. The sizes most in use have from 30 to 8o sq. ft. of sail area. There is no difficulty about raising a kite to a vertical height of one or even two miles on suitable days, but heights exceeding three miles are seldom reached. On the 29th of November 1905 at Lindenberg, the Prussian Aeronautical Observatory, the upper one of a train of six kites attained an altitude of just four miles. The total lifting surface of these six kites was nearly 300 sq. ft., and the length of wire a little over nine miles. The kites are invariably flown on a steel wire line, for the hindrance to obtaining great heights is not due so much to the weight of the line as to the wind pressure upon it, and thus it becomes of great importance to use a material that possesses the greatest possible strength, combined with the smallest possible size. Steel piano wire meets this requirement, for a wire of h in. diameter will weigh about 16 lb to the mile, and stand a strain of some 250–280 lb before it breaks. Some stations prefer to use one long piece of wire of the same gauge throughout without a join, others prefer to start with a thin wire and join on thicker and thicker wire as more kites are added. The process of kite-flying is as follows. The first kite is started either with the self-recording instruments secured in it, or hanging from the wire a short distance below it. Wire is then paid out, whether quickly or slowly depends on the strength of the wind, but the usual rate is from two to three miles per hour. The quantity that one kite will take depends on the kite and on the wind, but roughly speaking it may be said that each To sq. ft. of lifting surface on the kite should carry i000 ft. of in. wire without difficulty. When as much wire as can be carried comfortably has run out another kite is attached to the line, and the paying out is continued; after a time a third is added, and so on. Each kite increases the strain upon the wire, and moreover adds to the height and makes it more uncertain what kind of wind the upper kites will encounter; it also adds to the time that is necessary to haul in the kites. In each way the risk of their breaking away is increased, for the wind is very uncertain and is liable to alter in strength. Since to attain an exceptional height the wire must be strained nearly to its breaking point, and under such conditions a small increase in the strength of the wind will break the wire, it follows that great heights can only be attained by those who are willing to risk the trouble and expense of frequently having their wire and train of kites break away. The weather is the essential factor in kite-flying. In the S.E. of England in winter it is possible on about two days out of three, and in summer on about one day out of three. The usual cause of failure is want of wind, but there are a few days when the wind is too strong. (For meteorological results, &c., see METEOROLOGY.) (W. H. Di.) Military Use.—A kite forms so extremely simple a method of lifting anything to a height in the air that it has naturally been suggested as being suitable for various military purposes, such as signalling to a long distance, carrying up flags, or lamps, or semaphores. Kites have been used both in the army and in the navy for flowing torpedoes on hostile positions. As much as two miles of line have been paid out. For purposes of photography a small kite carrying a camera to a considerable height may be caused to float over a fort or other place of which a bird's-eye view is required, the shutter being operated by electric wire, or slow match, or clockwork. Many successful photographs have been thus obtained in England and America. The problem of lifting a man by means of kites instead of by a captive balloon is a still more important one. The chief military advantages to be gained are: (i) less transport is required; (2) they can be used in a strong wind; (3) they are not so liable to damage, either from the enemy's fire or from trees, &c., and are easier to mend; (4) they can be brought into use more quickly; (5) they are very much cheaper, both in construction and in maintenance, not requiring any costly gas. Captain B. F. S. Baden-Powell, of the Scots Guards, in June 1894 constructed, at Pirbright Camp, a huge kite 36 ft. high, with which he successfully lifted a man on different occasions. He afterwards improved the contrivance, using five or six smaller kites attached together in preference to one large one. With this arrangement he frequently ascended as high as Too ft. The kites were hexagonal, being 12 ft. high and 12 ft. across. The apparatus, which could be packed in a few minutes into a simple roll, weighed in all about i cwt. This appliance was proved to be capable of raising a man even during a dead calm, the retaining line being fixed to a wagon and towed along. Lieut. H.D. Wise made some trials in America in 1897 with some large kites of the Hargrave pattern (Hargrave having previously him-self ascended in Australia), and succeeded in lifting a man 40 ft. above the ground. In the Russian army a military kite apparatus has also been tried, and was in evidence at the manoeuvres in 1898. Experiments have also been carried out by most of the European powers. (B. F. S. B.-P.) KIT-FOX (Canis [Vulpes] velox), a small fox, from north-western America, measuring less than a yard in length, with a tail of nearly a third this length. There is a good deal of variation in the colour of the fur, the prevailing tint being grey. A specimen in the Zoological Gardens of London had the back and tail dark grey, the tail tipped with black, and a rufous wash on the cheeks, shoulders, flanks and outer surface of the limbs, with the under surface white. The specific name was given on account of the extraordinary swiftness of the animal. (See
End of Article: KITE
[back]
VISCOUNT HORATIO HERBERT KITCHENER KITCHENER (1850-...
[next]
JOHN KITTO (1804–1854)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.