Our flock of spoon-billed sandpipers are showing clear signs of maturing. All the birds have started to moult from juvenile into their first winter plumage, which is a polished silvery white like a suit of armour.
During a recent evening feed all the birds were being particularly noisy, producing lots of sharp, high-pitched calls. The noise they make, particularly when the whole flock join in, can be fantastically loud. On this occasion it was deafening, but in the background, I picked out a different call, one I had never heard before. It was a longer, very distinctive ‘churring’ call rather than their usual short sharp ‘peep’. Although not well mastered, it was one of our young birds trying to give an adult call!
Following this, the birds have become more wary and less tame around me. The team and I have been speculating that it may be down to the hormones whizzing around their bodies which are inducing changes in plumage and calls. It’s a bittersweet time: now that they are maturing, the birds are less dependent on their mother figure!
Ending on a less happy note, we have some sad news to report; one of our birds has died. The post-mortem didn’t reveal a cause of death as there were no obvious signs of disease and looking back through days of CCTV footage revealed nothing unusual. We are awaiting histology results but the rest of the flock are doing well and are continuing to go about their business in their usual lively way.
About Nicola Hiscock
Nicky is WWT’s Conservation Breeding Assistant and is responsible for the day-to-day care of the spoon-billed sandpipers at Slimbridge. Her first job in aviculture was a temporary one, helping Nigel’s team rear common cranes for release into the wild in Somerset. The team discovered she had feathery fingers (the avicultural equivalent of green fingers) and now she’s a permanent member of the team.