UK first as rare black-winged stilts choose Welney Wetland Centre as breeding ground

Black winged stilt at Welney Wetland Centre. Picture: Bob Ellis

Black winged stilt at Welney Wetland Centre. Picture: Bob Ellis - Credit: Archant

For the first time ever a pair of unusual wading birds, black-winged stilts, have successfully bred in the UK - on the reserve at WWT Welney Wetland Centre.

The species of bird has been a vagrant to the UK for many decades with a handful of nesting attempts in that time. This is the first time the species has successfully hatched chicks at a WWT reserve in the UK.

Black-winged stilts are striking birds to look at, easily identified from other waders with their black & white plumage, thin black bill and long, spindly red legs.

They are normally found around the Mediterranean, nesting within wetland habitat where they feed on insects in the water and mud. When conditions in their normal breeding areas are drier than normal, the birds can be displaced further North to the UK, to find more suitable conditions.

Assistant warden Hetty Grant said: 'When the black-winged stilts started nest scraping, mating and then incubating their clutch I was nervous with anticipation, however their rarity in the UK made them a prime target for egg collectors.

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'A surveillance team had to be assembled to protect these birds. Due to the unsociable hours I was astounded by the exceptional response of staff and volunteers; an incredible 25 people took part in our stilt watches, covering over 230 hours.

'So often we hear about the negative effects of humanity on the natural world, it is amazing to be part of WWT, an organization that plays a positive role with inspiring conservation stories like this one.'

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The birds have chosen to nest on an area of wetland which was only created by WWT ten years ago. Lady Fen is outside the Ouse Washes, and so is not affected by the late spring flooding which can occur after a period of heavy rainfall.

Lady Fen provides the perfect habitat for many other wetland species including black-tailed godwit, snipe, shoveler, common tern and avocet, all of which are now raising young chicks and ducklings.

Visitors can view the adult stilts from the centre. The chicks are still very small at this point and will use the vegetation as cover whilst they are at a vulnerable stage. The parents may move them around, and as they grow there will be a better chance of visitors viewing them too.

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