Godwit breeding season well underway

Eggs safely collected

Under a licence granted from Natural England, we have collected black-tailed godwit eggs from the Nene Washes for our headstarting programme. Eggs are collected early in the breeding season to allow the donor pairs to relay. The eggs are being cared for by the specialist team at WWT Welney. It’s intensive work looking after the eggs – they are checked every two hours to ensure that they are the correct temperature and humidity, something that comes naturally of course to the godwits. We will be keeping a close eye on their progress and hope that, all being well, our first chicks will hatch towards the end of May.

Eggs are carefully collected under licence from Natural England. Photo Bob Ellis WWT.

Headstarted birds nesting

Several headstarted birds have returned to the project sites in recent weeks and have been keeping our research team busy with their antics. A total of eighteen headstarted birds have been recorded to date, including all nine of birds that returned to the project sites in 2018. We also have five birds that were released in 2018, who have returned in their first year. Last year Earith, a female released in 2017 returned and bred successfully at the RSPB Ouse Washes. Her daughter is now also back in the fens, and has paired up with Benwick, a male released in 2017.

All our released birds are wearing a unique combination of colour rings so that we can monitor them. Most black-tailed godwits don’t breed until they are two year’s old, and early signs are that several of our headstarted birds released in 2017 may breed this year. We have three pairs of headstarted birds (where both bird from the pair were headstarted) and more pairs where one bird is wild and the second is headstarted. Lady and Nelson, Anouk and Delph, and Denver and Purl are all currently nesting at WWT Welney. Lil is paired with a wild male at WWT Welney, Earith is back at the RSPB Ouse Washes and Remi is at the Nene Washes with a wild male.

Earith’s daughter (pictured here soon after fledging) is now back at WWT Welney. Photo Jonathan Taylor RSPB

In the wild population

Early estimates indicate that we will see a very welcome increase in the black-tailed godwit population this year, largely thanks to the number of headstarted birds that have recruited into the population. This is fantastic news, but we know it’s important that we improve breeding success in the wild if the gains from headstarting at to be consolidated long term. Unfortunately, we have lost a couple of early nests at our project sites as a result of predation and flooding. However, our first wild nest at Welney has successfully hatched and we hope that more will follow suit in the coming weeks.

Visit us at Project Godwit

This spring we’ll be hosting our first ever Godwit Festival at WWT Welney on 1-2 June. The weekend will be packed with talks, guided walks and family activities, celebrating all things godwit. Our Project Godwit team will be on hand all weekend and on Sunday, Back from the Brink poet Back Katherine McMahon, will be ‘poet in residence’ running a drop in session where you can try out your poetry skills – no experience is necessary! You can reserve your place at the Godwit Festival here.

We’ll also be running our ever-popular Project Godwit Guided Tours at WWT Welney during May and June. This behind the scenes tour gives you the chance to find out all about these birds and you may get the chance to see our headstarted chicks for yourselves. Book your place here.

Black-tailed godwit chicks inside the rearing aviary. Photo WWT.