It’s with great pride and sadness that we announce the successful breeding of the first spoonie chick at Slimbridge and the first ever anywhere in the world, however the bird has sadly died.
Just as we were about to officially announce the news, it died of a tragic flying injury that could not have been prevented.
Despite the misfortunate outcome, the spoonie’s arrival sparks a significant breakthrough in conservation breeding.
It is the result of eight years of hard work, perfecting conditions to allow the world’s only captive flock of spoonies to breed.
Due to their extreme lifestyles – they migrate from tropical Asia to Arctic Russia to breed – the team were faced with a huge challenge. After doing their best to recreate that experience in the aviaries here – using special lightbulbs, timer switches and diet analysis, they finally made a breakthrough this summer.
The “arked” population at Slimbridge was established in 2011 in case time ran out to save the bird in the wild. All along its migratory route, spoonies are threatened by illegal hunting and human encroachment of important mudflats.
However since then, there are signs that the wild population may be starting to recover thanks to the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force working across the birds’ range from Russia to China to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Learning from the experience of breeding birds at Slimbridge, a head-starting programme for spoon-billed sandpipers has been underway in Russia since 2012, involving the collection of eggs from incubating birds in the wild, hatching and hand-raising the chicks in captivity to fledging age, and releasing the birds back into the wild. Skipping the particularly risky incubation and rearing phases helps protects the eggs and increases the chicks chances of survival. This technique has boosted the number of young spoon-billed sandpipers bred each year in the wild by a quarter – 163 birds have been released so far.
There are many positives to be taken from the significant developments of this year.
Our dedicated, hard-working team have done a brilliant job, earning a world’s first in the process. There are a lot of real positives to build on and I’m sure their professionalism and first-class expertise will lead to greater successes in the future.