Natural England - Breeding spoonbills return to Holkham

Breeding spoonbills return to Holkham

12 September 2011

Spoonbills returned and bred for a second year at Holkham National Nature Reserve (NNR), fledging 14 young.

2010 saw the first breeding colony of Spoonbills in the UK for more than 300 years. Natural England staff at Holkham NNR were eagerly awaiting the 2011 season to see if the birds would return and they were not disappointed. The first returning adult was seen on 11th March and this year the colony supported 8 breeding pairs, successfully fledging 14 young. This is an encouraging increase from the 6 pairs in 2010.

The breeding spoonbills are part of group of around 40 adult and immature birds summering along the north Norfolk coast. These birds move between feeding sites on north Norfolk coast nature reserves and the Holkham breeding colony.

Spoonbills are named after their rather comical broad bills, which they elegantly sweep through water to feed.

Regular monitoring of the colony by NNR staff revealed that six different birds this year were sporting colour-rings, enabling staff to establish that these birds had come from various sites in Europe, including nests in Holland, Germany and Spain. None of these colour-ringed birds were seen at the colony during the 2010 breeding season. An increased monitoring and surveillance programme this year ensured that the breeding colony was not disturbed.

Michael Rooney, Natural England’s Senior Reserve Manager at Holkham NNR said: “The Reserve team have worked very hard to maintain ideal breeding habitats for birds, so it’s really satisfying to see the colony establishing itself – it means we’re getting things right. We hope the spoonbills will join the rest of our breeding regulars by becoming an annual occurrence.”

Holkham sits between Blakeney and Scolt Head Island NNRs and is part of an important network of habitats along the north Norfolk coast, allowing biodiversity to flourish and spread. Natural England manages the freshwater marshes at Holkham to cater specifically for wetland breeding birds. Maintaining high water levels through the spring into mid-summer is critical and has resulted in a dramatic increase in the population of many breeding species. The nesting colony is surrounded by water and is therefore safe from predators, while the presence of pools in adjacent fields provides nearby feeding opportunities for the adults raising hungry chicks.


Notes to editors:

For further information or a photograph, please contact Lyndon Marquis, 0300 060 4236, 07786 277223,

  • This is only the fifth successful breeding record of spoonbills, and only the second colony, in recent times in England.

  • 8 pairs bred in 2011 and an additional 1-2 pairs built nests, but did not lay any eggs.

  • Individuals and small parties of non-breeding birds have been regular in Norfolk (and elsewhere in UK) in spring and summer for many years. At Holkham NNR small numbers of spoonbills have often been seen in the spring and summer months in recent years. Breeding behaviour was noted from single pairs in 2004, 2006 and 2007 but although nests were built, it was never confirmed that eggs had been laid and certainly no young were fledged.

  • Spoonbills breed colonially on islands, in trees, or within extensive reed beds in areas with wetlands with extensive shallow water. They feed on invertebrates and small fish sifted from shallow water whilst moving their bills from side to side.

  • Despite the recent increases in the Netherlands, the Spoonbill suffered a long-term decline in Europe caused by the loss and degradation of its wetland haunts, and numbers are still falling in Eastern Europe. There could be as few as 8,900 pairs remaining in Europe which holds the bulk of the global population. For this reason, the bird is recognised as a Species of Conservation Concern at European level.

  • Footage of the colony can be found onlineexternal link

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