Rare spoon-billed sandpiper chicks hatched in captivity

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Spoon-billed sandpipersImage source, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Image caption,
Conservationists have been "trying to coax these little birds to breed" for eight years

Two of the world's rarest wader chicks have been hatched in captivity at a nature reserve in Gloucestershire.

The pair belong to the only captive flock of spoon-billed sandpipers in the world, established at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge.

The trust said conservationists had been "trying to coax these little birds to breed" for eight years and had now "finally cracked the problem".

Nigel Jarrett, from the trust, called it "a huge breakthrough".

There are only about 200 breeding pairs of the critically endangered species left in the wild.

The WWT began trying to establish a flock in 2011 as a back-up to the wild population, which was declining by up to 25% a year.

Since then around 12 eggs have been laid by the flock, five eggs have hatched but no chicks have survived.

Image source, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Image caption,
In the wild, the birds have been hit by loss of habitat in East Asia and bird trapping in Bangladesh and Burma

The trust said it was "incredibly encouraging" the two chicks were surviving and appearing to be "adapting well to their Gloucestershire environment".

"Playing Cupid has finally paid off and after a lot of 'will they, won't they' we were delighted to have hatched two little chicks," said Mr Jarrett.

"They have now acquired their juvenile plumage and continue to thrive."

'Hormones surging'

Spoon-billed sandpipers have never been kept in captivity before.

With its extreme lifestyle - including an annual 8,000-km trip from tropical Asia to Arctic Russia to breed - the bird has also never been bred in captivity.

"Each of those factors could play a part in getting the birds' hormones surging, so we've done our best to recreate that experience in aviaries in Gloucestershire," said Mr Jarrett.

"I'm glad to say that, with the help of special light bulbs and timer switches, along with a lot of sand and netting, we seem to have finally pulled it off."

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