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 sandpiper numbers boosted by conservationists

Young hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper (c) Nicky Hiscock

Young hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper (c) Nicky Hiscock

Critically endangered spoon-billed sandpipers fledglings have increased in number by a quarter in 2013, after conservationists intervened to hand rear chicks.

As few as 100 breeding pairs remain in the wild, rearing just 60 young between them each year on average. The 16 additional hand-reared young are a significant boost for the species, which is on the verge of extinction.

WWT Conservation Breeding Officer Roland Digby said:

“The breeding season in Russia is short and brutal for spoon-billed sandpipers. Each pair is lucky to get even a single chick as far as fledging. Normally, that’s life, but right now the spoon-billed sandpiper needs a lifeline to keep them from going under.”

Experts from WWT worked with Russian scientists to source eggs from breeding pairs soon after being laid. Taking the eggs prompted each breeding pair to lay a further clutch, which they were left to rear themselves. One pair produced a total of 6 fledglings this year – ten times the average.

Male spoon-billed sandpiper that produced six fledglings - three that he reared himself and three that were hand-reared (c) Roland Digby

This male spoon-billed sandpiper produced six fledglings in total: three he reared and three were hand-reared (c) Roland Digby

The tiny fledglings now face their first 8,000km migration to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Along the way they will struggle to find undeveloped coastal mudflats to rest and feed, and on arrival they risk being trapped in nets.

Birdwatchers in Asia are being asked to report any sightings of spoon-billed sandpipers. All hand reared birds have a tiny coloured flag attached to one leg.

Intervening to increase breeding productivity in wildlife like this is known as headstarting. It is a short-term strategy.

Tim Stowe, RSPB Director of International Operations said:

“Having been part of an expedition to look for additional spoon-billed sandpiper breeding sites, I can appreciate that giving these amazing birds a helping hand through headstarting will help deliver short-term conservation benefits.”

Conservationists are tackling the problems of illegal trapping and habitat loss along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s flyway. It is calculated that headstarting spoon-billed sandpipers will increase the number returning to breed as problems are addressed, allowing the population to stabilise and recover more quickly.

Spoon-billed sandpiper chick (c) Roland DigbyJean-Christophe Vié, Director SOS – Save Our Species welcomed the news of the continued project success:

“At SOS – Save Our Species we are delighted to support this project. The headstarting programme had already delivered meaningful results in 2012 and the news of the impact of this additional batch of hatchlings in Chukotka fortifies hope for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s future. It is rewarding news not just for the experienced team out there but for all the unsung heroes of who strive – often in remote corners of the world – to save our threatened species.”

For a fuller account of the expedition to Chukotka and for details of how to support spoon-billed sandpiper conservation, visit www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com.

The spoon-billed sandpiper conservation breeding programme is a collaboration between WWT, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo and the RSPB working with colleagues from the BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force.

  1. Lor Reply

    That’s the best answer by far! Thanks for conittburing.

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