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Monday, July 16, 2012

Are you my mum? An endangered spoon-billed sandpiper chick explores its new home after fraught trip from Russia to join UK conservation project

By Daily Mail Reporter

A tiny spoon-billed sandpiper gets acquainted with its new surroundings after being rushed from Russia to the UK to join an emergency conservation project.

More than a dozen of the critically-endangered chicks - named because of their distinctive beaks - have become the first of their kind to hatch in this country after surviving a fraught trip from the Siberian tundra as eggs.

The delicate little creatures, which are no bigger than a bumblebee when they hatch, are one of the most threatened bird species in the world.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is one of the world's rarest birds; there are thought to be less than 100 breeding pairs left in the wild

Fewer than 100 pairs in the wild and numbers falling by a quarter each year, leaving it facing extinction within five to 10 years.

Conservationists have launched an emergency captive breeding scheme, in a bid to preserve the population long enough to tackle the threats faced by the sandpipers along its migration route to South East Asia and its wintering grounds in Burma.

Last year, eggs were incubated and hatched in Russia, before being brought to the captive breeding facility at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

But because of the difficulties experienced in transporting live birds from Russia to the UK, the experts this year decided to collect and transport eggs before they hatched.

A spoon-billed sandpiper chick explores its new surroundings at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) centre in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire

Two newborn and extremely endangered spoon-billed sandpiper chicks feed on insects after hatching from 20 eggs imported from Russia

It was a close run thing to get the eggs from the Russian Far East before they hatched, according to WWT's head of conservation breeding, Nigel Jarrett.

He said the first chicks emerged just hours after the team arrived at Slimbridge at the end of their week-long journey by helicopter and plane from Russia and 14 had now hatched.

A few more eggs are hatching, but were collected when they were freshly laid, rather than in the ideal condition of having been incubated for a week by their parents, so might not survive.

The spoon-billed sandpiper, which has a unique spoon-shaped beak, is only the size of a bumblebee when it hatches. The newly-hatched chicks will be kept separately from the existing flock of 12 birds until they are much older.

The hatchlings are latest arrivals to a breeding programme which hopes to save the species from extinction

The birds brought back last year will be mature and ready to breed next year, when they are two years old.

'It's important to do everything to prevent the species' extinction,' Mr Jarrett said.

'The spoon-billed sandpiper is a beautiful and unique bird, but whatever it looked like, we couldn't stand by while it went extinct.

'We hatched the first of our conservation breeding flock on the tundra last year and brought them back when full grown

'With all we learned then, it made sense to transport them as eggs this year and the huge privilege for the UK is to have these amazing little chicks hatch here for the first time.'

In addition some birds have been reared in captivity in the Russia to be released there, to prevent them being eaten as eggs by predators.

This tiny chick, which is little bigger than a bumblebee, is among the first time the species has hatched in the UK

Taking eggs away to rear by hand will also encourage the parents to lay again which will increase the population.

Mr Jarrett said: 'As well as the conservation breeding programme preserving birds possibly for release and preventing extinction, it also allows us to develop techniques to intervene so we can cut out predation of eggs and chicks.'

And he said: 'We've also got to address the problems in their staging and wintering areas.'

The birds have been hit by loss of inter-tidal habitat in East Asia as they migrate south from their Russian breeding grounds and bird trapping by villagers in their wintering sites in Bangladesh and Burma.

The scheme to save the birds is a collaboration between WWT, the RSPB, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Birdlife International, ArcCona Consulting and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force.



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