Spoon-billed Sandpipers hatched on Far East breeding grounds


Twenty critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks have hatched under expert care in the Russian Far East. Conservationists took the eggs from the wild, in order to protect them from extreme weather and predators. The first hatched early last Wednesday morning and they continued until the last hatched on Sunday evening.

Numbers of Spoon-billed Sandpipers have plummeted in recent years because of the destruction of wetland habitats and the effects of illegal trapping along their migration route. While tackling these problems, conservationists are boosting the productivity of the remaining breeding pairs by taking eggs from the wild, hatching and rearing them in captivity and releasing them once they have fledged. WWT Head of Species Conservation Dr Baz Hughes said: "This is conservation at the edge; it's risky work, in difficult conditions, but my colleagues have proved yet again how incredibly experienced they are at rearing endangered birds. Breeding season is brief and brutal for Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the wild, but by intervening like this we can help rear five times as many young and help the population stabilise. But it's expensive to work in the remote Russian Far East and it's only possible due to the financial support we've raised for this charismatic bird."

24-hour-old Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Photo: Paul Marshall/WWT).

RSPB's Head of International Species Recovery Team Dr Rob Sheldon added: "This delightful and engaging bird has been brought to the edge of extinction by rampant habitat loss and severe hunting pressure, which are now being recognised and tackled. The conservation breeding programme is but one part of an international effort to save Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Head-starting is an innovative additional technique that gives the population a helping hand at this critical stage in our attempts to prevent their extinction."

Chief Executive of Birds Russia Dr Evgeny Syroechkovskiy commented: "We have come so close to losing the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Each of these twenty chicks represents a bit more hope for the future of the species. I am very proud of the hard work by our team of fieldworkers, aviculturists and researchers."

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Jean-Christophe ViĆ©, Director SOS — Save Our Species, said: "At SOS we are delighted to support this project and its innovative conservation methods. The head-starting programme had already delivered meaningful results in 2012 and the news of this additional batch of hatchlings in Chukotka fortifies hope for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper's future. It is rewarding news not just for the experienced team out there but for all the unsung heroes who strive — often in remote corners of the world — to save our threatened species."

Foxes, skuas and feral dogs take eggs and chicks from the ground-nesting birds, and sudden changes in the weather can be fatal. Studies show that on average each pair lays four eggs per year but raises less than one chick. Artificial incubation and captive rearing increases that to more than three and, by taking eggs within days of them being laid, the birds naturally start again with a second clutch that they incubate and raise themselves. The approach, known as head-starting, is a short-term tactic. It increases the number of birds approaching breeding age as conservationists tackle the problems of illegal trapping and habitat loss, hopefully enabling the species to stabilise and recover more quickly.

The team is blogging about their progress at www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com.

Written by: WWT