23/08/2013
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Spoon-billed Sandpiper numbers boosted by conservationists

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Critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper fledglings have increased in number by a quarter in 2013, after conservationists intervened to hand-rear chicks. As few as 100 breeding pairs remain in the wild, rearing just 60 young between them each year on average. The 16 additional hand-reared young from this year are a significant boost for the species, which is on the verge of extinction.

WWT Conservation Breeding Officer Roland Digby commented: "The breeding season in Russia is short and brutal for Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Each pair is lucky to get even a single chick as far as fledging. Normally, that's life, but right now the Spoon-billed Sandpiper needs a lifeline to keep them from going under."


This male Spoon-billed Sandpiper nested 300m north of the release site and reared three chicks to fledging (Photo: Roland Digby/WWT).

Experts from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust worked with Russian scientists to source eggs from breeding pairs soon after being laid. Taking the eggs prompted each breeding pair to lay a further clutch, which they were left to rear themselves. One pair produced a total of six fledglings this year — no less than ten times the average.

The tiny fledglings now face their first 8,000-kilometre migration to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Along the way they will struggle to find undeveloped coastal mudflats to rest and feed, and on arrival they risk being trapped in nets. Birdwatchers in Asia are being asked to report any sightings of Spoon-billed Sandpipers. All hand-reared birds have a tiny coloured flag attached to one leg.

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Young Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the rearing aviary (Photo: Nicky Hiscock/WWT).

Intervening to increase breeding productivity in wildlife like this is known as headstarting. It is a short-term strategy and Tim Stowe, RSPB Director of International Operations, said: "Having been part of an expedition to look for additional Spoon-billed Sandpiper breeding sites, I can appreciate that giving these amazing birds a helping hand through headstarting will help deliver short-term conservation benefits."

Conservationists are tackling the problems of illegal trapping and habitat loss along the species' flyway. It is calculated that headstarting Spoon-billed Sandpipers will increase the number returning to breed as problems are addressed, allowing the population to stabilise and recover more quickly.

For a fuller account of the expedition to Chukotka and for details of how to support Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation, visit www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com.

Written by: WWT