Posted on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012
The chicks in their first few weeks
This summer, we imported great bustard eggs into the UK from Russia for the first time. It was an exciting moment for the project, the first time great bustard eggs had ever been transported by air, and we were delighted when within two weeks all six of the eggs had hatched. Unfortunately one chick died due to complications in the hatching process, but the remainder thrived under the watchful eye of Cristina Sellares, our aviculturist. The story of their early weeks is told in the Autumn 2012 issue of Otis – here we will jump forward to mid-August, when our chicks were ready to begin the release process.
The import of eggs gave us the opportunity to make major changes to the process of rearing and releasing the birds. Quarantine regulations remained in place until the youngest chick was 30 days old, far younger than the Russian-reared chicks when their quarantine ends. This gave us time for a much softer release process, which could be spread over months rather than weeks.
Cristina in the release pen with the chicks, photo © David Kjaer
The chicks were moved to a small pen within the main release pen, still with shelter and heat lamps for when it was cold or wet. They had become accustomed to the presence of their human mother in a special rearing suit, and she was now able to lead them out into the main pen several times a day for their first taste of good bustard habitat. They were still fed twice a day, but could also eat vegetation and insects naturally whilst in the pen. Their preference for the leaves of oil seed rape, like all bustards, was immediately obvious.
A week into September, the chicks were progressing well, and it was time to give them access to all of the release pen, all of the time. We removed two panels from their small pen permanently, but it took them several days to gather the courage to explore on their own.
Two of the chicks in the release pen with Black 9, a bird released in 2011. Photo © David Kjaer
By the end of September they were rarely seen around their pen, and much more often in or near one of the plots of oil seed rape. We are still feeding them, to maintain their positive relationship with the rearing suit, but they are starting to behave much more like wild bustards and probably no longer need supplementary feeding. None have yet left the safety of the release pen, but the gradual nature of their release process should stand them in good stead for their future life in the wild.
All the chicks have now been marked with light green plastic rings, each with an individual code. As with the Russian-reared chicks, you will be able to follow their progress on the LIFE bird news page at http://greatbustard.org/life_project/life-bird-news/.