When a species is in trouble and on the brink of extinction drastic measures may have to be taken. Captive breeding and headstarting are last-resort weapons available in the conservationists armoury.
Here we explain captive breeding and headstarting. These tools have been used by conservationists on a range of species. These species include Shore Plover, Black Stilt, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit.
So what is captive breeding?
This works by taking eggs from the wild as a one-off action where the birds will go on to lay a second clutch thus not interrupting the breeding season entirely.
The taken eggs and their resulting chicks are then kept in captivity and form the basis of a breeding population safely monitored in captive conditions. The idea is to create a safety net for the species. Should the wild population die out, then the species is saved.
In addition, if the captive breeding population grows, it will reach its capacity and surplus numbers can be returned to the wild.
And what is ‘headstarting’?
This is taking eggs from the wild birds each breeding season. The wild birds should re-lay a second clutch. The taken eggs will be hatched in captivity.
In the wild only 3 chicks survive to adulthood out of every 20 eggs laid. In the headstarting programme this is increased by as much as 5 times. Survival chances rise from 15% to 85%.
Hatched birds will be protected by being kept in a predator free environment. This is possible as the birds hatch being able to walk and feed themselves without the need of their parents’ nurturing.
When the birds are able to fly they are released back into the wild to join the wild population to migrate and hopefully return to breed.