Evidence of spoonbill breeding at Fairburn Ings - a first for Yorkshire and a first for an RSPB reserve .
A rare bird usually found in southern and eastern Europe has hatched chicks for the first time in Northern England, at the RSPB's Fairburn Ings reserve, near Leeds.
An unforgettable sight, spoonbills are tall, white heron-like birds with black legs and an enormous spoon-shaped bill. They use this bill to sweep through the water from side to side, scouring for food.
Spoonbills had not nested regularly in the UK since the 1700s, however recent years have seen them slowly expanding their range north and returning to Britain once again. Birds are increasingly seen along the east coast of England, and one breeding colony has been established in East Anglia.
Darren Starkey, Senior Site Manager of RSPB Aire Valley, says: "To see a successful spoonbill nest is a very special event. Although we have occasional spoonbill sightings each year at Fairburn Ings - some travelling from as far as the Netherlands and Spain - none have successfully nested before, and never on an RSPB site. When we suspected they might be feeding chicks, the warden and volunteer team took turns keeping watch for feeding flights
"These spoonbill chicks - known here as 'teaspoons' - have been a long time coming, following a lot of hard habitat management work. They're currently hidden away deep in the vegetation but we hope they'll be much more visible when they fledge."
Because of their rarity, spoonbills are a specially protected bird in the UK, and their breeding presence at Fairburn Ings has been kept a secret - until now. They are of conservation concern due to lack of suitable habitats, water pollution, and drainage of wetlands for farming and tourism.
David Morris, Senior Reserves Ecologist at the RSPB, says:"The weird and wonderful spoonbill looks like something you'd see on safari in Africa or on a cruise of the Nile - not off the A1 on the outskirts of Leeds. But these magnificent birds have made Yorkshire their home and we're absolutely delighted: this is good news for the future success of these birds in Britain."
This new colony in the North of England represents the wider trend for long-legged water birds moving north. As seen on BBC's Springwatch, the likes of great white egrets, cattle egrets and black-winged stilts have also started establishing colonies in the UK as a result of climate change drying out their traditional nesting habitats in southern Europe.