Update from Jodie Clements
After what felt like an eternity, the eggs had finally been incubated long enough to see whether or not they were fertile… we had some concerns over fertility as no obviously successful copulations had been witnessed. You may be thinking, well this is a private matter, why would you see? But in previous years copulation has often been observed while stood in the aviaries feeding them! But I digress…
Upon candling, all three eggs were fertile! Candling is a method used to see the contents of an egg. In a darkened room, you shine a powerful torch through the egg, from the blunt end, where the airspace is located. This illuminates the egg allowing you to see inside. In the early days of incubation you should be able to see the developing embryo. Veins are often visible too.
The incubation period for spoon-billed sandpipers is around 20-23 days so we expected them to start hatching any time from 24 May. And this is the day eggs 1 and 2 externally pipped. The first cracks in the egg are made with the chick’s beak. Over the next few days the chick rotates in the egg making the cracks bigger until the shell is weak enough for them to make one final push. Hatching is a tiring process, and it is not uncommon for waders to take three days to fully emerge after the first tiny pip. Sure enough, they made us wait!
The team were keen to see the hatching process, but it’s never easy to guess the exact moment this will happen… On 27 May the first chick hatched while the team were busy in the aviaries feeding the adult birds! On the evening of the 28th eggs 2 and 3 also hatched.
Jodie then had to jump on a plane to Russia for headstarting! The next installment comes from Tanya Grigg.
I was in Edinburgh airport when I heard the amazing news from the team at Slimbridge that all three Spoonie chicks had hatched. I literally flew back on cloud nine super excited but also worried about getting them through the first critical weeks of their lives.
As you can imagine I didn’t sleep a wink and couldn’t wait to get down to Slimbridge to meet the new tiny arrivals (the chicks each weighed just under 5g at hatch and literally were the size of bumble bees!).
In 2018, I was part of the WWT conservation breeding team that reared our first spoon-billed sandpiper chick to fledge. She was perfect – the most beautiful stunning little spoonie – and it was absolutely devastating and heart breaking to lose her so cruelly to a night fright flying injury and something that took us all a long time to get over.
So looking at the new chicks for the first time was incredibly exciting and scary all at the same time. I had a few tears (when nobody was looking), then told myself I won’t get attached and to pull myself together ……. Well I tried 🙂
Now the hard work and worry began!!
For the first week I slept at the spoonie facility to change their food and water dishes and offer tasty fruit flies and crickets every two hours through the night. The chicks don’t eat for the first 24 hours or so as they are still absorbing their yolk sac but once they are ready they are on their feet and feeding, pecking at anything that looks like a morsel of food.
Unfortunately after 36 hours the last chick to hatch began to look unwell. It became sleepy and stopped feeding, and a few hours later sadly passed away. This was a massive blow and worry for the whole team as this little chick had looked very bright and was doing all the right things so obviously we worried for the other two chicks.
Chicks 1 and 2, however, went from strength to strength. At 10 days old we started to put the chicks outside during the day into a coop with a small grassy run so they could enjoy the outdoors and have more space to run about and stretch their legs, which is essential for the growth of healthy spoonie chicks. They both loved being outside and continued to do well, so after a few days we decided to leave them outside overnight. I went home but didn’t sleep a wink worrying about them, but needn’t have worried – they were both happily running about stretching their wings and jumping as I returned the next morning.
We are incredibly happy to report that the chicks continued to grow well and fledged in mid June. They are currently living in their own outdoor aviary. We plan to introduce them to the rest of the flock in September.
As always, we are incredibly grateful to all our spoonie partners, funders and WWT members and supporters for making it possible to continue our efforts to conserve the globally Critically Endangered spoon-billed sandpiper.