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Lucky black-winged stilt chicks who hatched on Friday 13th fledge at Medmerry

Last modified: 21 July 2014

Black-winged stilt stretching

Image: Steve Round

The stilt family has been seen flying together on the nature reserve, an award-winning coastal realignment near Chichester, whose creation was led by the Environment Agency. 

It has been a tense few weeks with RSPB staff and volunteers keeping their fingers crossed that the birds would survive to the stage where they can fly. Three stilt chicks which hatched at RSPB Cliffe Pools in Kent around the same time did not survive.

RSPB volunteers Sam and Sandra Hill, from Selsey, saw the chicks in flight on Wednesday. “We saw two of the stilt chicks walking about on very rough ground,” Sam said. “We saw one chick fly about ten metres and then land. Then we saw the two other chicks take off and fly about 100 metres, then the other chick flew up to join them.”

The Medmerry stilt chicks are the first to fledge successfully in the UK since 1987, when a pair of stilts, which are more commonly found in the Mediterranean, raised chicks to adulthood in Norfolk. This is only the third successful breeding ever in the UK.

The RSPB organised a 24-hour watch on the nest at Medmerry between 22 May and 13 June. Volunteers and staff kept a close eye on the eggs until they hatched.

In total 34 volunteers at Medmerry covered more than 260 hours on watch to protect the eggs from thieves. 

“It’s fantastic news that the birds have successfully fledged and that all the efforts of the volunteers and staff have paid off,” said Mark Thomas, the RSPB spokesperson on rare breeding birds.  “This species may become a regular breeder in the near future but the first steps towards colonisation are really important.”

“We have worked very hard to create the right habitats for wading birds like the stilts and this is evidence that we have been successful,” Pete Hughes said. “The stilts which arrived in this country earlier this year chose RSPB reserves to breed which shows that the work we have done has paid dividends.”

Black-winged stilts are slender black and white waders with long reddish pink legs, usually found in the Mediterranean. They nest in wetlands and feed on insects which they pick from the surface of the water or forage for in shallow mud.

It is thought that a dry spell in southern Spain earlier this year may have displaced the birds to southern Britain. And it is believed that a changing climate may mean they are more frequent visitors in future.

The stilts’ presence at Medmerry is a tribute to the wetland conditions there; at what is the largest open-coast managed realignment scheme in Europe and the RSPB’s newest reserve.

Medmerry was created between 2011 and 2013 by the Environment Agency primarily as a flood risk management scheme and consists of mudflats, tidal lagoons, saltmarsh, wildlife-friendly farmland and dragonfly-rich ditches.  

• RSPB Medmerry is not due to formally open to the public until this autumn, once the paths, car parks and landscaping are complete. Until then, some of the paths are open in an unfinished state. 

• Leaflets and visitor advice about Medmerry are available at the RSPB Pagham Harbour visitor centre.




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