Last modified: 05 August 2010
It’s a sight wildlife lovers have been waiting for – the first purple heron chick ever to be raised successfully in the UK has taken its first flight and is learning to fend for itself.
One chick has been seen flying around the RSPB’s Dungeness nature reserve in Kent, and wildlife enthusiasts are celebrating the monumental breeding success.
This is the first chick to venture out of the nest so far but it is believed there is at least one more to come. The adult male is still visiting the nest site every few hours with food and the female remains largely unseen - as she has done ever since the eggs were laid.
A daily watch is being continued to report any further sightings.
Phil Eglise, said: “A large Purple Heron was seen clambering up willow bushes near the nest site in an apparent effort to try and gain height before flying.
“It was practising flapping its wings before flying around in a couple of brief circles above the nesting reed bed. The sighting lasted about 45 minutes to an hour in total. The heron then disappeared again into the tall reeds.”
This behaviour, which has not been seen in either of the adults, has led to confirmation that the sighting was of a fledgling. The bird was also very brown and dull in appearance, lacking the dark stripes normally seen along an adult’s neck.
The first signs that the adult birds were attempting to breed came in April when two adults appeared at the nature reserve and started to gather nest building material and do courtship displays.
The RSPB immediately set up a round-the-clock species protection team to give the birds the best possible chance of raising their young.
The birds were rarely seen at this stage as they were incubating the eggs, apart from when they changed over nest duties.
Since the eggs were believed to have hatched, there has been much more frequent changeovers, with birds returning from feeding forays approximately every three hours, presumably to deliver food to the awaiting chicks.
In recent days, wardens have glimpsed what they believe are chicks, when the wind blew the reeds round the nest apart, and they have heard the young bird chirping for food.
But yesterday, it was confirmed that the RSPB’s efforts had paid off, with the first definite sighting of the fledglings.
Purple herons are closely related to the larger and more common grey heron, that are often seen on garden ponds and in park.
They can reach 90cm in height, with a wingspan up to a metre and half.
Purple Herons are high up on the list of birds that are expected to be seen setting up home in southern Britain as the changing climate pushes them further north.
Although Purple Herons have struggled in Europe over the last few decades, experts say the numbers of breeding pairs are expected to increase in the UK in the years to come.
In Europe, purple herons usually breed in colonies in reedbeds but this is the first time a pair of the birds have successfully bred in UK waters. One previous known attempt in Suffolk failed, believed to be because of severe flooding.
This further demonstrates the importance of wildlife havens like Dungeness in providing space for species displaced by global warming.
It is believed the adult and young birds could be at Dungeness for approximately a month, before starting their journey to Africa for the winter, although they could depart sooner.
For more information on RSPB Dungeness go to www.rspb.org.uk/dungeness
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