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.

One of our spoon-billed sandpipers gives its first adult call and some sadder news

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.

  1. NigelH Reply

    Sad but interesting, and maybe no coincidence that the bird died just now; moult, and times when birds are undergoing hormonal changes, are often when they are most stressed and vulnerable. My marathon training is progressing well, 20 mile race coming up this weekend; I could be left a little stressed and vulnerable too! http://www.justgiving.com/sandpiper.

    • ruralsongbird Reply

      Well done you Nigel. You are an inspiration like the team at Slimbridge are as well. Helena

  2. ruralsongbird Reply

    I am so sorry you have lost another bird. How very sad. Given that you produced 13 birds from 19 hatched eggs you were still doing better than they do in the wild. I hope you get to the bottom of the problem. It is sad when the young grow up and become less dependant but hopefully the new sounds and behaviours will add to your enjoyment of the birds not detract from the marvellous job you guys have done so far. Helena

  3. Ken Turnip Reply

    Such sad and unexpected news to lose one of these spirited little miracles when they were all looking so healthy. Worrying not to be able to find a reason. These things happen and it’s not always possible to say why, but it’s more reassuring if you can. Then you can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Perhaps it was a genetic issue and so a good thing that it doesn’t go on to breed (as has happened recently with New Zealand Kakapo – http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz/index.php?view=article&id=266%3Agenetic-link-to-kakapo-death&option=com_content&Itemid=221 ).

    If we onlookers all feel sad at the end of a computer, it must be even more distressing for the team there who have invested so much in ensuring their welfare. Be sure to remember that it’s quite likely that none of these birds would still be alive if they had been left on the tundra – so few juveniles seem to make it south of the breeding grounds.

    Until the problems in the wild can be sorted (good news on that here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyBCMFzvsEE ), you and these birds are the best hope for this species. Twelve birds still alive is really good going. Well done guys.


  4. Ken Turnip Reply

    All quiet on the Eastern Front… how are things going with this year’s adventures in the Eastern Palearctic? Would love some news.


    • Spoon- billed Sandpiper project Reply

      Hi Ken, apologies for the hiatus. We’ve been working on a new website for the project which we hope to unveil in the next couple of weeks.

      Plans for this year’s expedition to Chukotka are in the final stages. The team will start arriving in the Russian Far East from the end of the month and we’ll be bringing you all their news right here.

      All the best

      • Ken Turnip Reply

        Good luck with that, guys. I can appreciate it must be a busy and uncertain time of year – updating the blog must be towards the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. Let’s hope there are no big surprises and all goes to plan.

        Best wishes and very, very good luck.

  5. Ken Turnip Reply

    Thanks guys. Another learning curve about to start – I’ve opened a Twitter account!

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