Breeding spoonbills return to Holkham nature reserve

A protected bird species has returned to its north Norfolk nesting grounds this summer after establishing the first breeding colony in the UK for more than 300 years.

Spoonbills, named after the broad bill which they sweep through water for food, bred at Holkham National Nature Reserve for the first time last year.

Natural England staff who manage the coastal reserve were eagerly awaiting the 2011 season to see if the birds would return.

And they were not disappointed, as the colony brought eight breeding pairs, successfully fledging 14 young – an increase on the six pairs which nested last year.

Michael Rooney, Natural England's senior reserve manager at Holkham, said: 'The reserve team have worked very hard to maintain ideal breeding habitats for birds, so it's really satisfying to see the colony establishing itself – it means we're getting things right.

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'We hope the spoonbills will join the rest of our breeding regulars by becoming an annual occurrence.'

The birds are part of a group of around 40 adult and immature spoonbills spending the summer along the north Norfolk coast, moving between feeding sites on other reserves and the Holkham breeding colony.

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The tall, white water bird has suffered long-term declines as a result of loss and degradation of its wetland habitat, and remains a conservation concern with as few as 8,900 pairs estimated to remain in Europe.

Spoonbills breed in colonies on islands, in trees or in large reed beds in wetland areas with plenty of shallow water, from which they sift for their food of small fish and invertebrates.

The site at Holkham was a perfect habitat, with high water levels surrounding the nesting area with water to protect it from predators and providing shallow pools nearby as a source of food.

Regular monitoring of the colony revealed that six different birds this year were sporting colour-rings, enabling staff to establish that they had come from sites in Europe, including nests in Holland, Germany and Spain.

None of these colour-ringed birds were seen at the colony during the 2010 breeding season.

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