Record year for rare black-winged stilts

Harry Bellew

Thursday 20 July 2017

• An unprecedented 13 black-winged stilt chicks fledge in the UK across sites in Kent, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, including nine on two RSPB reserves.
• Extremely rare in the UK, more stilts fledged this year than the total between 1983 and 2016.
• In part due to climate change, stilts are touching down in the UK in search of marshy conditions to raise their chicks.
• The birds have benefitted from work on RSPB reserves to create the perfect habitat for them.

Usually found in Southern Europe, a record 13 black-winged stilts have fledged in the UK from nests across Kent, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, including nine on two RSPB reserves after years of conservation work to create the ideal marshy habitat for them.

An elegant, black and white wader bird with long, bubble-gum pink legs, black-winged stilts have become a more common sight in recent years as they move from their traditional nesting grounds in southern Europe in search of wetland habitat to raise their young. However, fledglings are still extremely rare in the UK with only a handful of successes in the past decade.

RSPB Cliffe Pools in north Kent proved to be the most productive site for black-winged stilts this summer as two pairs fledged an impressive seven chicks. A further two young fledged from RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire, with a final four coming from a nest in Norfolk making it the most successful breeding season for stilts in the UK.

Will Tofts, Warden at RSPB Cliffe Pools, said: "Black-winged stilts are a fascinating looking bird; from their long, stick-like pink legs to their thin little bills they use to pick insects out from the water and mud.

"After three disappointing years of stilts failing to fledge at the reserve, it's incredible to have seven come along at once - a great reward for all the hard work from the team across the site. We've worked to create the perfect habitat and it's been brilliant to see the stilts take to it over the past few months. To follow them from nesting all the way to fledging is an amazing experience and we now hope to see black-winged stilts flourishing at Cliffe for years to come."

In the Mediterranean, stilts prefer to nest in shallow lagoons and salt pans, and when visiting the UK it is usual for them to visit a number of potential nesting sites before settling down to make their home.

The success of stilts on RSPB reserves follows several years of hard work by staff and volunteers to provide the perfect habitat for species, and to protect them from threats. At RSPB Cliffe Pools, this involved protecting areas of pools and successfully attracting stilts to the nests within this safe area by cutting and grazing the vegetation. At the Ouse Washes, staff had to react quickly to save the stilt nests as rapidly rising water levels threatened to destroy their nests.

Malcolm Ausden, RSPB Principal Ecologist, said: "With the changing climate we're anticipating that more southern European bird species - such as black-winged stilts - may arrive in the UK to nest. We're planning for their arrival by providing the ideal habitat and conditions for them on our nature reserves, especially wetlands, to ensure they are able to nest and raise their chicks. Hopefully, this year marks a change in fortunes for black-winged stilts in the UK - with more fledglings this year than from all previous nesting attempts between 1983 and 2016 - in part down to the habitat on RSPB reserves."

Last week it was revealed that cattle egrets had successfully bred for only the second year in the UK at RSPB Ham Wall, while earlier on in the summer a pair of spoonbills nested at RSPB Fairburn Ings - a first for Yorkshire.

To learn more about RSPB reserves or to find one near you and the amazing wildlife making their home there, visit

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Country: UK Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Climate change Topic: Conservation Topic: Species conservation