Written by??Mark Simpson/WWT
WWT have begun work on a groundbreaking new project to perfect the process of breeding waders as part of our conservation breeding program.
Ruff chicks. ?? Sacha Dench
The project is currently focused on hatching and rearing two wader species – the Ruff and the Dunlin. Its goal is to research and test breeding methods on these birds so that, should the day come when conservation breeding is the only lifeline for an endangered wader species, WWT is prepared.
Wading birds are particularly vulnerable as tidal wetlands around the world are squeezed by rising sea levels and inland waters are altered for power and flood protection.
23 species of wader are now globally red listed (vulnerable, endangered or critical) and a further 20 species have reached near threatened status, two of which are UK birds the black-tailed godwit and Eurasian Curlew.
Three wader species have been lost entirely in recent history and the Slender-billed Curlew is either on the brink or already extinct (stay tuned for further news on an expedition to try to find traces of this possibly extinct bird).??
Head of Conservation Breeding Nigel Jarrett explained how the project has begun with the rearing of four??Ruffs??at WWT???s Slimbridge Wetland Centre.
???We???ve obtained some eggs and hatched those eggs in an incubator and we???re now just learning about their needs so that we can rear them successfully and then apply those rearing skills and know-how to other projects,??? he said.
???Their daily pattern seems to involve sleeping for 10 minutes and then feeding in 10 minute bursts so that they???re constantly either on the go full on or completely zonked.???
And the??Ruff??chicks currently thriving at Slimbridge???s breeding facility are doing well, with the help of some ingenious props thought up by Nigel ??? which include a Christmas tree and a fluffy toy rabbit.
???In the cubicles we???ve got an artificial Christmas tree broken up into pieces and moulded into a dense shelter so that the birds can get underneath and shelter if they can hear us talking or they feel too hot. So we???ve got a perfect living environment for them and they seem to be growing normally and very quickly,?????explained Nigel.
As for the cuddly toy ??? ???When wader chicks first hatch they???re just like a lot of fluffy birds ??? their down can be matted against their plumage. In nature, when they???re brooded by mum, she sits on them and that down then fluffs up.???
“Of course in this situation we haven???t got a mum so what I???ve used for the birds to sit against is a toy rabbit, as the fluffy texture we have found has the same effect and the chicks will nestle up to it.???
???The birds got underneath shortly after they hatched and just from friction the down has fluffed up and now they???re able to keep themselves warm.???
Rearing waders is much different to rearing ducks, added Nigel. ???They are very different to ducks ??? they take a long time to hatch from the very first time the baby pips the shell it can take up to four days for the chick to come out, which is, compared to a duck, a huge amount of time.???
Ruff chicks with the Christmas tree. ?? Sacha Dench
The wader chicks are also very active and quite highly strung, he said. ???They seem to get stressed quite easily so we keep the birds behind shade screens so they can???t see us walk to and fro.
???That???s important because disturbance, as well as keeping the birds too warm, can cause them to develop growth problems and develop a crick in their neck and grow up with bent necks, so we???ve got to keep the temperature just right and make sure disturbance is kept to as low a level as possible.???
They???re far more ???on-the-go??? than ducklings too, he noted. ???These things grow so quickly it???s phenomenal. They???re constantly eating. Their daily pattern seems to involve sleeping for 10 minutes and then feeding in 10 minute bursts so that they???re constantly either on the go full on or completely zonked.???
But despite their care being a steep learning curve, the four??Ruff??chicks in Nigel???s care are doing well.
???We???re really delighted with what we???ve achieved so far,??? said Nigel. ???It???s the first time that the WWT have been incubating and rearing waders. It???s been a very exciting time. We???ve learned a lot and so far we haven???t done too badly. We???re rearing four out of four hatched baby??Ruff. We???ve also got some Dunlin in the Slimbridge duckery and they???re almost fledged.???
Watch our hyperactive??Ruffs??enjoying their carefully prepared home in the video below. (Footage taken by Sacha Dench).