WATCH: Rare birds hatch in Suffolk for first time in over 300 years
- Credit: STEVE EVERETT
Rare spoonbill birds have successfully raised chicks for the first time in Suffolk since the 18th century – offering a sign of hope for the future of the species.
The birds were discovered nesting on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds(RSPB) Havergate Island nature reserve in the River Ore – Suffolk’s only island – following more than a decade of dedicated conservation work.
More than 30 spoonbills visited the island this year and delighted the RSPB team when four chicks were successfully raised by two nests.
Named after their incredible spoon shaped beak, spoonbills are a very rare breeding bird in the UK and are recognised as a species of conservation concern.
The RSPB has been working over the last 15 years to encourage spoonbills to breed on the island. In recent years, they have seen an increase in visiting spoonbills, but until now there had been no successful breeding.
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The exact year when spoonbills last hatched young in Suffolk remains unknown, but it is believed to be more than 300 years ago.
In Ticehurst’s book, A History of the Birds of Suffolk (1932), Sir Thomas Bourne is quoted as indicating that spoonbills were breeding at Trimley beside the Orwell Estuary in 1668. However, there is nothing to indicate when and why they ceased to breed at Trimley.
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This colony was unknown to an author called Pennant writing in the journal British Zoology in 1776. There is the possibility that spoonbills were still breeding at Trimley into the early years of the 18th century, so it seems likely that the Havergate chicks were the first to hatch in Suffolk for 300 to 350 years.
Aaron Howe, RSPB South Suffolk sites manager said: “We’ve been trying for years to get spoonbills to successfully breed on Havergate island, so it’s fantastic to see these extraordinary chicks leave the nest. This shows that reviving natural habitats is hugely important to the survival of our wildlife.
“The work we have done on Havergate Island has also helped create a natural flood defence for the surrounding area, so the site is able to benefit spoonbills and local people. It is only because of our brilliant members and supporters that we can protect these sites and the wildlife they support, together we can give nature the best shot at recovering and thriving.
“With continued protection of their all-important habitats we are hoping they will continue to thrive across the country, and at RSPB Havergate Island.”
The RSPB team used a range of techniques to encourage the unique birds to nest on the site, restoring natural habitats and even putting out models of spoonbills to help the birds find nesting sites.
After creating raised platforms, which mimic their natural nest sites, the visiting spoonbills began displaying breeding behaviours such as passing sticks to each other, grooming partners and sleeping on the platforms.
In 2019 they had their first sign of hope when five pairs made nests, but sadly none were successful.
Following last year’s glimmer of hope, the team dug a 350m long ditch surrounding the nesting platforms and installed a protective fence.
They were delighted when four chicks hatched.