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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.

Update on the Slimbridge flock

The birds’ new summer accommodation is almost finished. The polytunnel is up and within it are both the non-breeding birds’ summer living quarters and separate enclosures for breeding pairs.

After a few weeks of groundworks and construction, all that needs to be done now is setup the ponds and lay the substrate the birds will be living on – a mix of sand, grassy tussocks and sedum (short, succulent plants that grow under quite dry conditions).

We have also completed work on the birds’ winter accommodation to improve their day-to-day care and general well-being. We have fitted windows – something we initially left out, as we were concerned they might be a hazard or a stressor to the birds. We have also put in more light fittings to increase the light levels on dull, dreary days outside. These lights can also be dimmed so that we can mimic dawn and dusk for the birds as they would experience them in the wild.

The moult in all of our birds has been delayed when compared to that of wild Spoon-billed Sandpipers, and the birds are also at differing stages to one another despite being exposed to the same conditions. We hope that the additional light from the windows and new lights will  help to speed up and better synchronise the birds’ moult cycles.

There have been some particularly interesting changes in the behaviour and appearance of the eldest group of birds – those collected in the summer of 2011. Three (nearly four) members of this flock are now in full summer breeding plumage with the others following closely behind. The birds look really striking, sporting the characteristic deep red head and neck. They continue to moult – we are finding feathers in the enclosure daily – and we hope that the others will catch up very soon.

This progression in moult has coincided with an increase in aggressive displays and territorial behaviour from some of the more dominant birds. It seems this rush of hormones causing the birds to moult has also caused them to exhibit new interesting behaviours. ‘Blue L’ has become very fond of an area of the pond in their enclosure, nearest the water jets. It will relentlessly chase other birds from this area with its wings fully outstretched and its head down whilst giving loud shrill calls. It will also ‘dance’ around this area of the pond, rapidly spinning in circles, occasionally opening its wings, as if it is playing in the jets of water.

Another bird, Pink R, has become notoriously dominant and frequently displays aggressively. It recently showed a new and interesting technique for chasing other birds away from its ‘patch’. Whilst calling rapidly, it crouched very low in the pond and waited for another bird to approach it. Once close up, Pink R, jumped up out of the water with wings outstretched, as if it was almost pouncing on the other bird.

All of the 2011 flock are now fully able to fly, having moulted through new wing feathers. It is fantastic to see the birds whizzing in circles, high around the enclosure – sometimes around my head. They are very good flyers, with advanced manoeuvrability and agility in the air. We have had a small number of minor bumps as the birds get used to this new found freedom but nothing to worry about.

Moult is not only confined to the eldest flock, the younger birds which hatched in summer 2012 have almost completed their post-juvenile moult. We have been finding dropped juvenile feathers for around eight weeks. Most of the birds are now in full winter plumage with only a couple of birds holding on to just a few juvenile plumage feathers. They are looking great with their bright, silvery backs, heads and faces.

  1. Elaine Reply

    Thank you! You all are doing Sacred Work! Blessings! Elaine

  2. Ken Turnip Reply

    Thanks so much for the comprehensive update. The birds are looking wonderful and the Conservation Breeding Empire looks just the job for housing them happily. Nice to hear that the birds are having a wee bit fly about, too. Well done and thanks to all concerned.

  3. M.K.Bhaskar Reply

    Great News! Keep up the good work! We need hundreds of such dedicated work to bring back many species at the brink of extinction.

  4. Rick Simpson Reply

    This all fantastic news and sush wonderful work. The world owes Nicky, Nigel and tanya a big vote of thanks. Their dedication to the task in hand is apparent from the successes they are achieving and their personal involvement and belief in what they are doing was apparent to us when we were lucky enough to meet them and the rest of the WWT earlier this year.
    The new quarters look fantastic, we are sure the birds will thrive in their new enclosure.
    The Spoon-billed Sandpiper cannot be allowed to become extinct, and this crew of wonderfull people are clearly doing everything in their power to make sure it doesn’t and Elis and I at least thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

  5. NigelH Reply

    Thanks Nicky, all looks & sounds great. Hope the birds like their new quarters when they’re finished.

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