Update from Baz Hughes
I think you might have all realised that there’s been a bit of blog silence on the Slimbridge spoonies so it’s time to update you. Put bluntly, we didn’t get eggs this year, but it wasn’t for lack of trying!
Moult into summer plumage commenced in late February with completion by mid-May: 12 of the 19 birds reached a moult score of 6 or 7 (7 being full summer plumage) with the remaining seven birds attaining moult scores of 4 and 5 as in previous few years. Males began to ‘sing’ towards the end of April. As in 2016, pairs (seven in total) were transferred from the wintering aviary to breeding aviaries in mid-May.
Only one pair showed encouraging signs of imminent breeding activity: the male bird made a total of eight nest scrapes over a two week period when he was either singing, nest scraping or ‘corralling’ his mate more or less day and night until 15 June. Though the female visited her partner’s nest scrapes and showed interest in his behaviour, no copulations were observed and no eggs were laid.
During this period, three other males were recorded as occasionally ‘territorial singing’, with two making nest scrapes. Attempts to instigate/sustain breeding behaviours/activity from these and other pairs, by moving birds between aviaries, proved futile. Moult resumed in the last week of June. Birds were returned to the main wintering aviary in early July.
I feel for the conservation breeding and veterinary teams who have pulled out all the stops to try to get our birds to breed. Their attention to detail is amazing. Over the past year, it’s been like a forensic investigation trying to get the birds’ diet (especially protein and calcium levels) and lighting just right, on the suspicion that calcium metabolism issues were a factor in the death of the chicks last year. We’re extremely grateful to Frances Baines (UV Guide UK) and Amanda Ferguson (ZSL) for their help over the past year with the UV lighting set-up and diet analyses, respectively, and to Philips Lighting for providing additional lighting for bird enclosures.
Unfortunately, a major blow this year was the loss of both of the 2016 breeding males before the breeding season, one through a diet related condition and the other through a freak night fright incident and collision with the aviary netting (which is double-skinned and designed to be as soft as possible). As we have CCTV running on the birds 24/7 we can see when the incident occurred but not what caused it.
So – my apologies for the lack of blogs, but I can assure you we will keep trying!