Godwit chicks are growing up fast

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Project Godwit team, but I’m very happy to be able to give you an update on our headstarted godwits.

We collected 32 black-tailed godwit eggs from the Nene Washes back in April, under a special licence granted by Natural England. We now have 26 black-tailed godwit chicks in the rearing facility at WWT Welney. This is a fantastic result for the aviculture team, who have been busy working around the clock to care for the chicks. The first few weeks of life can be tough for a young wader, so we’re giving the birds a helping hand during this crucial period. We hope that headstarting will allow us to boost the number of juveniles that fledge and therefore fast-track population growth at the Ouse Washes, where flood-free, wet grassland habitat has been created with godwits in mind.

These very special chicks spent their first week of their lives inside their early-stage rearing facility. They were then given a taste of life outside when they were moved to their mid-stage rearing enclosure at around nine days old. This aviary has been constructed within the wet grassland habitat at Welney, giving the chicks access to the sights and sounds of the fens as they grow. The chicks are already well able to feed themselves and have been observed feeding on wild invertebrates (worms are a particular favourite) just as they would do in the wild.

Meanwhile, back at the Nene Washes, many of the black-tailed godwit pairs from which eggs were collected have laid replacement nests. Based on the distribution of nests and the timing of laying, we think that all the pairs from which eggs were collected have laid again. We can be certain that at least five pairs have relayed as these pairs contain individually colour marked birds.

Last week Project Godwit staff fitted the headstarted chicks with their own colour rings. Each bird has received an individual colour ring combination, so that we can follow their progress after they have been released. This year’s headstarted chicks have received a green colour ring above the knee on the right leg, situated above another lime colour ring with the black letter “E” stamped on the ring. If you see a colour ringed black-tailed godwit, you can report it to us on our sightings page here https://projectgodwit.org.uk/get-involved/report-a-sighting/

The godwit chicks are growing up fast. The next step for them will be a veterinary health check. If all is well, the chicks will then be transferred to their release aviary, where they will stay under our care under they are ready to fly in a couple of weeks time. We’ll keep you updated on their progress.

Black-tailed godwit chick in early-stage rearing facility. Photo by Bob Ellis WWT
Inside the mid-stage rearing aviary
A black-tailed godwit chick is carefully fitted with colour rings by the project team

Godwits Being Given a Head Start

This year we will be trialling the rear and release of black-tailed godwits in an effort to boost population numbers, using a process known as “headstarting”.

Thirty-two black-tailed godwit eggs have been collected from nests at RSPB Nene Washes – under a licence granted by Natural England. The eggs have been safely transported to specialist facilities at WWT Welney, where they will be incubated until they are ready to hatch. WWT staff will then rear the birds in captivity, until they reach the point of fledging when they will be released to join the black-tailed godwits in the wild at Welney.

Photo by Bob Ellis.

Because black-tailed godwits often will lay replacement clutches when nests are lost, we hope that the godwits from which eggs were taken will also go on to lay and rear another brood successfully in the wild. This will give the godwits a temporary boost in productivity, crucial at a time when the UK population of godwits is teetering on the edge at around 60 pairs.

It will be a few weeks until the eggs are ready to hatch and we’ll keep you posted on their progress.

Project Godwit Gets Underway

Welcome to our new website!

Project Godwit is a new partnership project between the RSPB and WWT, with the aim of securing the future of breeding black-tailed godwits in the UK. Black-tailed godwits have a small breeding population in the UK, of about 60 pairs, and our new project is aiming to turn around their fortunes. With funding from the EU LIFE Nature programme, we’ll be undertaking a range of activities at the Nene and Ouse Washes including:

  • An extensive research and monitoring programme of black-tailed godwits at the Nene Washes.
  • Maintaining and enhancing black-tailed godwit wet grassland habitat at the Nene and Ouse Washes, providing the right conditions for the species to thrive.
  • A range of steps to reduce the impact of predation on black-tailed godwits, with the aim of increasing nest and chick survival.
  • Using colour ringing and tracking to improve our understanding of the local and migratory movements of black-tailed godwits.
  • Trialling a rear-and-release programme, known as “headstarting”, in a bid to supplement the small population of black-tailed godwits breeding at sites adjacent to the Ouse Washes.
  • Running a range of events for local communities and schools, to raise awareness of black-tailed godwits and their special wetland habitats.

I hope you enjoy exploring our new website. For latest news from the project, you can sign up for our email alerts. Or if tweeting is your thing you can follow us on twitter @projectgodwit.