Rare spoon-billed sandpipers hatched at nature reserve

Two of the world’s rarest wader chicks have been hatched in captivity at a nature reserve, conservationists have revealed.

The pair belong to the only captive flock of spoon-billed sandpipers in the world, established at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

The trust said conservationists had been breeding the birds for eight years before manipulating artificial light to help recreate conditions along their migratory path.

There are only about 200 breeding pairs of the critically endangered species left in the wild.

The WWT began trying to establish a flock in 2011 as a back-up to the wild population, which was declining by up to 25% a year.

Since then around 12 eggs have been laid by the flock, five eggs have hatched but no chicks have survived.

In the wild, the birds have been hit by loss of habitat in East Asia and bird trapping in Bangladesh and Burma.

The trust said it was “incredibly encouraging” that the two chicks were surviving and appearing to be “adapting well to their Gloucestershire environment”.

Nigel Jarrett, from the WWT, said: “Playing Cupid has finally paid off and after a lot of ‘will they, won’t they’, we were delighted to have hatched two little chicks. They have now acquired their juvenile plumage and continue to thrive.

“This is a huge breakthrough. Spoonie numbers are dangerously low but if we can sustain them in captivity then we can ensure that this marvellous bird will never vanish completely.”

With its extreme lifestyle – including an annual 8,000km trip from tropical Asia to Arctic Russia to breed – the bird has also never been bred in captivity.

They hatch with their distinctive spoon-shaped bills fully formed, making it unique in the bird world.

“In the wild they migrate from tropical Asia to Arctic Russia to breed, experiencing huge differences in temperature, habitats and daylight along their 8,000km route,” Mr Jarrett said.

“Each of those factors could play a part in getting the birds’ hormones surging, so we’ve done our best to recreate that experience in aviaries in Gloucestershire.

“I’m glad to say that, with the help of special lightbulbs and timer switches, along with a lot of sand and netting, we seem to have finally pulled it off.”

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