Rare birds return after three centuries

THE first colony in three centuries for one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds has been established on a North Norfolk nature reserve.

The spoonbill, which has bred only four times in Britain in the last 300 years, has achieved what is described as “stunning success” at Natural England’s Holkham reserve and, for the first time since the early 1700s, the UK has its own breeding colony of these beautiful crane-like birds.

Careful monitoring has confirmed that four nesting pairs have now fledged a total of six young, with at least a two further pairs feeding their young in nests.

Not since the early 1700s has more than one spoonbill bred in the UK and conservationists are hoping that the breeding success at Holkham is not a one-off.

Spoonbills are named after their rather comical broad bills which they elegantly sweep through water to feed.

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Interest was aroused when a total of nine spoonbills - mostly adults in full breeding plumage - arrived this summer in the freshwater marshes at Holkham. The spoonbills established themselves in the mixed breeding colony of cormorants, grey herons and little egrets already on site.

Visits to the secluded breeding site were kept to a minimum to avoid disturbing the birds, but it soon became clear that one adult bird was sitting on a nest with several other adults in the area.

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Maintaining high water levels through the spring into mid-summer is critical and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the population of many breeding species.

The nesting colony is surrounded by water and is therefore safe from predators, while the presence of pools in adjacent fields provides nearby feeding opportunities for adults raising hungry chicks.

Michael Rooney, Natural England’s senior reserve manager at Holkham NNR said: ”A lot of careful work has gone into creating and managing ideal habitats for a range of nesting birds at Holkham so it is very exciting and a stunning success that the reserve has become a safe haven for a breeding colony of spoonbills. As several pairs nested successfully this year, we hope that the birds will return and establish a permanent colony in future years.”

Mr Rooney explained that many of the spoonbills that visit Holkham and other areas of England originate from the increasing breeding population in the Netherlands.

“As numbers have been increasing in Western Europe in recent years, expectations have been high that spoonbills would soon colonise in Britain. White-plumed spoonbill chicks taking their first flight above the Norfolk marches is something we hope will become an annual occurrence on the Holkham NNR.”

Every July, small groups of spoonbills appear in the Cley area and they can be observed feeding as they sweep their bills back and forth.

For further information about Natural England’s national nature reserve at Hollkam visit: http//www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designated areas/nnr/1006078.aspx

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