Home sweet home: Rare bird hatches chicks for first time in northern England

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A rare bird usually found in southern and eastern Europe has hatched chicks for the first time in northern England.

A spoonbill family has set up home on the outskirts of Leeds at the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings reserve.

The large white heron-like bird gets its name from its enormous spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbills had not nested regularly in the UK since the 1700s until recently and now they are spreading north.

Darren Starkey, senior site manager of RSPB Aire Valley, said: “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, the RSPB’s senior reserves ecologist, said: “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.”