Stilts breed successfully at Welney


For the first time ever, a pair of Black-winged Stilts has nested and raised chicks on the reserve at Welney Wetland Centre WWT. This is also a first for any of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserves across the country.

Black-winged Stilt is usually found in the Mediterranean region, nesting within wetland habitats where they feed on invertebrates in the water and mud. When conditions in these areas are drier than normal, birds can be displaced further north to find more suitable conditions. The species has been a vagrant to Britain for many decades with a handful of nesting attempts, but was recently taken off the list of birds for consideration by the Rarities Committee.

The Black-winged Stilt pair and one of their chicks (Emma Brand/WWT).

Hetty Grant, Assistant Warden, said: "When the stilts started nest scraping, mating and then incubating their clutch I was nervous with anticipation ... their rarity in the UK made them a prime target for egg collectors.

"A surveillance team had to be assembled to protect these birds. Due to the unsociable hours I was astounded by the exceptional response of staff and volunteers; an incredible 25 people took part in our stilt watches, covering [for] over 230 hours."

The stilts have chosen to nest on an area of wetland which was only created 10 years ago. Lady Fen, as the area is known, is outside the Ouse Washes and so is not affected by the late spring flooding which can occur after heavy rainfall. Lady Fen provides the perfect habitat for many other wetland species including Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe, Northern Shoveler, Common Tern and Avocet, all of which are now raising their own chicks.

The male Black-winged Stilt feeds on the reserve at Welney (Bob Ellis (WWT)).

The WWT has helped the stilts along to this stage by eliminating unnecessary disturbance and putting round-the-clock surveillance in place, but now the threat of egg collectors is past the parents must do their best to protect their chicks from predators and the elements.

Birders can view the adult stilts from the visitor centre. The chicks are currently very small and will use vegetation as cover while they are at this vulnerable stage. The parents may move them around, and as they grow there will be a better chance of visitors seeing them.