Headstarting is a collaborative effort between WWT, BirdsRussia and the RSPB, and occurs as part of the International Arctic Expedition mounted each year by BirdsRussia under the leadership of Dr. Evgeny Syroechkovskiy.

Spoon-billed Sandpipers Enjoying Their New Facility

By Nicky Hiscock, Conservation Breeding Assistant

The sandpipers have been in their new home now for just over a month and they’re making good use of the surroundings we’ve carefully designed for them.

The facility was built just in time for their arrival in 2011 and consists of two indoor enclosures where they can be kept during the cold months, an outdoor enclosure and all of the spaces we need to care for them, including a kitchen for food preparation, storage areas and an all important ‘biosecurity portal’ where we change our footwear and clothes before entering and leaving the rest of the facility.

Although the sandpipers breed in the Arctic, it is actually pretty warm for the few weeks that they are there. They don’t actually seem to tolerate cold weather particularly well so at the moment the birds are being kept in one of their two indoor enclosures and we’re carefully keeping the temperature at a balmy 25˚C.

Each indoor space has a large water pool, a salt water bath, sprigs of artificial Christmas tree to provide cover, a variety of food and water bowls, and lots of heat and UV lamps. The floor of the enclosure that the birds are currently in is covered with round 2mm-gravel (like a beach of very small, smooth pebbles) and in the second room, which we’re preparing for them at the moment, they’ll have river sand. We’re not yet sure which they’d prefer and which would be the better substrate for the condition of their feet (an important consideration for anyone keeping birds), so it’ll be interesting to see how they react to the river sand over the next few weeks.

All 13 birds are making good use of their indoor space, which is great to see as this suggests to us that they’re comfortable and each of the different areas (gravel, water, warmer bits, cooler bits, etc) provides something interesting or useful for them.

Birds under the heat lamps

  1. apolden Reply

    Glad to hear they’re doing well. I hope they continue to make good progress. The environment looks a bit bare – is there anything to amuse them? I envy them the 25˚C!

    • Ken Turnip Reply

      When I saw spoon-billed sands in China, they were to be found on extensive open mudflats. Outside of the breeding season (so for the vast majority of the year), they occur in just these sorts of open, flat, featureless spaces. And they spent an awful lot of their time asleep or preening. I can’t see the layout of the indoor space they have being a problem for them at all.


    • Spoon- billed Sandpiper project Reply

      Hi apolden

      Thanks for your comments. It’s not obvious in the photo with this post but there’s a large water pool down the middle with constantly running water and lots of sprigs of Christmas tree for the birds to use. They really seem to enjoy the water and spend lots of time shovelling (or perhaps I should say spooning!) through the tiny 2mm pebbles in the pool, expressing natural feeding behaviour – a wonderful thing to see! The daily feeds with live food are also something that creates excitement in the flock each day.

      And like Ken says below, the environment we’ve created for them isn’t a world away from what they’d experience in the wild at this time of year. If they were forest birds for example, their enclosure would look very different.

      But we are aware that these birds aren’t experiencing exactly what they would in the wild so enriching their lives with us is an important part of the project. Our aviculturists keep a close eye on them (including at night via CCTV!) so any signs of boredom won’t be missed!

      I hope this answers your query.

      Rebecca (Senior Species Conservation Officer, WWT)

  2. Ann Davies Reply

    Thank you for the update – great to hear that the “spoonies” are making good progress. Hoping to make it across there for your weekend event at beginning of February so look forward to hearing & seeing more then

  3. Eddie Hallam Reply

    While the birds have been settling in at Slimbridge I have been busy sculpting a collection of life size “spoonies” which have just gone to the foundry to be cast in bronze. They will be used to raise funds for the conservation effort. Photographs in due course!

    • Ken Turnip Reply

      Look forward to seeing those, Eddie!

  4. Barbara Fletcher Reply

    They’re obviously thriving – keep up the good work!

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