Bird centre celebrates vital role in fowl’s revival
Chicks of the Great Bustard hatched at Holt Pound prior to introduction into the wild
AN ambitious project to reintroduce a large bird extinct from the British wild since the 1840s has taken a major step forward thanks to Birdworld in Farnham.
The Holt Pound centre has this month successfully incubated and hatched dozens of eggs imported from Spain, yielding a cohort of Great Bustard chicks that will now be reared for release in rural England.
The rare fowl is the heaviest flying animal alive today, and was once an important feature of British wildlife until it was hunted to extinction.
A total of 56 Great Bustard eggs were collected from the Castilla la Mancha region in central Spain by RSPB staff with specially trained dogs and brought to Farnham last month.
Of the eggs that were viable, 82% hatched successfully, thanks to the expertise of Birdworld's curator Duncan Bolton.
“With the Great Bustard project, knowing that we have contributed to such a momentous and ambitious reintroduction project has filled the whole team with pride,” he said. “It is always a great opportunity when avicultural skills can be used to aid in conservation of a threatened species."
The chicks have now been taken to a site in Wiltshire run by the overall project architects, the Great Bustard Group, where they will be reared in stages to prepare them for a release into the wild.
Thirty-three birds will be released from two secret sites later this year. This will follow a ‘soft release’ phase which will allow the birds to gently find their freedom in stages.
The young chicks will be bill fed with a puppet, and the rearing team will wear ‘dehumanisation suits’ to stop the chicks becoming too accustomed to people.
The long-term aim of the project is to create a self-sustaining population of Great Bustards across the UK.
Birdworld, which manages the hatching of dozens of rare species from across the world each year, currently holds the only public captive Great Bustard enclosure in Britain, containing two birds, Nelson and Morgana, who can’t be released due to previous injury.
The pair arrived at Birdworld last year.
Mr Bolton said he hoped Birdworld would continue to provide advice relating to the husbandry of the ‘enigmatic’ birds.
The programme of reintroducing Great Bustards to the wild is expected to increase in pace after DNA testing revealed the presentday Spanish birds are more closely related to the historical British variety, rather than the Russian Great Bustard, which have proven more difficult to capture and export.
Mark Anderson with the Great Bustard eggs.
One of two Great Bustards at Birdworld in Farnham.