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Rare birds breed in Yorkshire
for the first time

June 2017


  • Spoonbills seen nesting at RSPB Fairburn Ings, near Leeds, a first for Yorkshire.
  • The rare bird hasn’t nested regularly in the UK since the 1700s. However, sightings of the bird have increased along the east coast of England and East Anglia in recent years.
  • The increase in activity on UK shores is thought to be down to the drying out of their traditional nesting sites in southern and Eastern Europe.

The spoonbill – one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds – has continued to break new boundaries after a pair nested for the first time in Yorkshire at RSPB Fairburn Ings.

Usually found in southern and Eastern Europe, spoonbills are unforgettable looking. Standing at close to three foot tall, these white heron-like birds with black legs and an enormous spoon-shaped bill haven’t nested regularly in the UK since the 1700s.

However, in recent years spoonbills have been returning to Britain in small numbers and slowly expanding their range north. Sightings of the bird have increased along the east coast of England and one breeding colony has been established in East Anglia.

Darren Starkley, Senior Site Manager at RSPB Fairburn Ings, said: “To see the long spatulate bill and gangling legs of a spoonbill in the UK is a magnificent sight, but to have a pair successfully nest one our site is extra special. We have occasional spoonbill sightings at Fairburn Ings – some travelling from as far as the Netherlands and Spain – but none have successfully nested before, and never on an RSPB site. This success is really down to the hard work of the staff and volunteers at Fairburn helping these species adapt to the changing environment.”

As spoonbills are so rare, and are specially protected species in the UK, their breeding success at Fairburn Ings has been kept a secret – until now. The increase in activity on UK shores has been linked to the drying out of their traditional nesting sites, due to climate change, forcing them to look further afield for suitable places to make their home.

David Morris, Senior Reserves Ecologist at the RSPB, said: “The weird and wonderful spoonbill looks like something you’d see on safari in Africa or on a cruise of the Nile – not on the outskirts of Leeds. But these magnificent birds have made Yorkshire their home and we’re absolutely delighted that the hard work at Fairburn Ings is paying off. We hope this is the start of a successful future for this bird in Britain.”

This new colony in Yorkshire represents a wider trend for wader birds moving north in search of more suitable habitat to make a home. As seen on BBC Springwatch, great white egrets, cattle egrets and black-winged stills have all established colonies in the UK as a result of climate change impacting their European nesting sites.

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