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UK's First Purple Heron Chick Takes Flight

Posted on 27. September, 2010.

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It’s a sight wildlife lovers have been waiting for – the first purple heron chick ever to be raised successfully in the UK has taken its first flight and is learning to fend for itself.

One chick has been seen flying around the RSPB’s Dungeness nature reserve in Kent, and wildlife enthusiasts are celebrating the monumental breeding success.

This is the first chick to venture out of the nest so far but it is believed there is at least one more to come. The adult male is still visiting the nest site every few hours with food and the female remains largely unseen – as she has done ever since the eggs were laid.  A daily watch is being continued to report any further sightings. The heron has been observed practising flapping its wings and flying in brief circles above the nesting reed bed. This behaviour, which has not been seen in either of the adults, has led to confirmation that the sighting was of a fledgling. The bird was also very brown and dull in appearance, lacking the dark stripes normally seen along an adult’s neck.

The first signs that the adult birds were attempting to breed came in April when two adults appeared at the nature reserve and started to gather nest building material and do courtship displays. The RSPB immediately set up a round-the-clock species protection team to give the birds the best possible chance of raising their young. The birds were rarely seen at this stage as they were incubating the eggs, apart from when they changed over nest duties. Since the eggs were believed to have hatched, there has been much more frequent changeovers, with birds returning from feeding forays approximately every three hours, presumably to deliver food to the awaiting chicks.

In recent days, wardens have glimpsed what they believe are chicks, when the wind blew the reeds round the nest apart, and they have heard the young bird chirping for food.

Purple herons are closely related to the larger and more common grey heron. They can reach 90 centimetres in height, with a wingspan up to a metre and half. In Europe, purple herons usually breed in colonies in reedbeds but this is the first time a pair of the birds have successfully bred in the UK. One previous known attempt in Suffolk failed, believed to be because of severe flooding. Purple Herons are high up on the list of birds that are expected to be seen setting up home in southern Britain as the changing climate pushes them further north.

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