Head Starting Program to boost the wild breeding SBS population in Russia

Head Starting Program to boost the wild breeding SBS population in Russia
авиарий в Майныпильгыно

The productivity and breeding success of Spoonbilled Sandpiper has been boosted by early extracting clutches from the nests and growing the chicks in captivity before releasing them after fledging back into the wild. Pairs in nature could still naturally lay second clutch. The scheme allows to increase the survival rates of chicks up to 5 times compared to that in natural conditions.

Head Starting Program is a program to increase the breeding efficiency of SBS in Chukotka by removing eggs from clutches and raising chicks in conditions protected from predators and adverse weather events. When eggs are harvested early, the couple has a chance to relay a second clutch, which further increases the breeding success. Together it makes it possible not only to slow down the overall rate of decline in the species. In case of the successful implementation of all conservation measures, we hope to get some growth in numbers by 2020.

This is a pioneer project, suchlike has never been implemented in the Arctic. There has been only two similar projects in the USA for the protection of two species of Ringed Plovers. Until then, no one had ever raised sandpiper chicks in captivity in such a number. Together with Slimbridge aviculturers (WWT - United Kingdom) and with the support of RSPB and other funds, the author's technique was developed for growing SBS and a great experience has been gained that can be used to save populations of many other bird species.

In Meynypilgyno, the national Chukchi village (Anadyr district, Chukotka Autonomous Region), nearby the largest and most stable population of SBS, an equipped station was founded in 2012. Incubators were brought to Chukotka from the UK, brood boxes with infrared lamps were equipped in a special room. During June, the eggs are removed from the nests and placed in incubators. The first week chicks spend in brood boxes. Then they are resettled in a street enclosure, arranged nearby in the tundra. The enclosures are securely protected both from the inside, so that the chicks do not get entangled in the net and do not damage from the walls of the enclosures, and from outside, from predators - with a metal mesh dug deep into the ground, equipped with an electric fence. Experts are constantly monitore the enclosures. In late July, when birds acquire the ability to fly, they are released into the wild. In early August, in Chukotka, a mass span of other sandpipers begins, so young SBS can join flocks of sandpipers and together fly away to wintering grounds.

Each bird raised within the program receives an individual colored plastic tag with a alphanumeric code by which they can be identified on the overflight and wintering grounds.

For six years, more than a hundred SBS have gone through Head Starting Program which is about a quarter of the entire remaining population. In 2014, the first raised sandpiper returned to the birthplace. The significance of this project became notable in summer 2015, when 5 SBS of uneven ages raised in captivity returned to the area of release. Later eight birds were registered; and their number continues to grow. Satisfactory survival was confirmed by more and more frequent meetings of these birds, marked with engraved flags, on the flight. After the breeding season of SBS in 2015, young birds released in Chukotka were registered in South Korea and Japan in southern China and South Korea. The population size at the monitoring site near Meynypilgyno, has increased from 11 pairs in 2014 to 13 pairs in 2016 where settled.

On average, the breeding success of the species within the program has increased several times, which is a great success for such a small population.

With the establishment of a sustainable work of Head Starting Program, the hope of the species conservation on the Earth has increased significantly.

Project coordinator                Nikolai Yakushev (athene-noctua @ yandex.ru)

Project Advisor                                  Roland Digby (UK)

Find out more: http://www.lopaten.birdsrussia.ru/project/lifeway

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