Jul 13

The first spoon-billed sandpiper chicks have hatched in captivity as part of an ambitious mission to save this Critically Endangered species from extinction

Photo of spoon-billed sandpiper in summer plumage 

Captive breeding programme off to a great start 

A total of 17 spoon-billed sandpiper chicks hatched en route from Chukotka in the Russian Far East, where a team led by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Birds Russia had collected eggs to start a captive breeding programme for this Critically Endangered bird. The first eight chicks hatched as the team were preparing to leave Chukotka by boat, and, despite rough seas, another nine hatched during the boat journey to the town of Anadyr. 

After being cared for in quarantine at Moscow Zoo, the precious chicks will eventually be brought to a specially built conservation breeding unit at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, UK. 

According to Nigel Jarrett, WWT’s Head of Conservation Breeding, “We boarded the boat with the eight newly hatched chicks, 12 fertile eggs, considerable anxiety about the trip on rough seas and a great deal of hope. We got off the other end with only three eggs, but an amazing 17 chicks and the remaining eggs poised to hatch any day, so I am as happy as happy can be.” 

Photo of juvenile spoon-billed sandpiper standing in water

Juvenile spoon-billed sandpiper. The survival rate of young spoon-billed sandpipers in the wild is very low.

Elizabeth Tambovtseva of Birds Russia said, “The excitement from the team when the first egg hatched and a tiny chick appeared was off the scale – we haven’t slept for days with the stress and worry so it was a pretty emotional experience. All the partners have been working hard as a team to pull off this very important stage of the mission and it’s paid off.” 

Uphill struggle to save the species 

Although this first stage of the captive breeding programme has gone as well as could be hoped for, conservationists still face an uphill struggle to save the spoon-billed sandpiper from extinction. 

One of the world’s rarest birds, its population had fallen to fewer than 200 pairs in 2009 as a result of habitat loss and hunting pressure. The threats to the wild population still need to be reduced if the species is to have a secure future in the wild. 

Photo of spoon-billed sandpiper wading, in summer plumage 

The survival rate for spoon-billed sandpiper chicks in the wild is also extremely low, with an average of only 4 chicks surviving to fledge from every 20 eggs laid, and of these only 1 surviving to maturity. Raising the newly hatched captive chicks will be challenging, and one weaker chick has already been lost

However, a total of 16 remaining chicks is still great news, and the captive breeding effort is likely to be the only way to prevent this unique species from becoming extinct within the next decade. 

Read the full story on the WWT website and find out more about WWT’s public fundraising appeal for the spoon-billed sandpiper

Find out more about the spoon-billed sandpiper on ARKive

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author