Photo: David Morris. An adult black-tailed godwit: ornithologists have reported seeing two hand-reared species in a flock on the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon 

THE FIRST EVER black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa) to be released into the wild under a new conservation programme have been spotted in Portugal.

Ornithologists recently sighted the two birds near Lisbon, which marks the first time that Project Godwit’s hand-reared birds have been seen outside of the UK.

The project is a five-year partnership between the RSPB and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), with the aim to increase the population of breeding Near Threatened black-tailed godwits in the UK. The sighted black-tailed godwits were two of 26 birds that had been hand-reared as part of a process called headstarting, before being released into the wild.

Project manager Hannah Ward welcomed the news that the two birds had migrated safely. She said: “Bird migration is an amazing feat and it’s fraught with dangers. These two godwits were last seen on opposite sides of the UK, one in Essex and the other in Somerset. It’s a huge relief to hear they have both made it to the same spot in Portugal safe and sound.”

As the birds are less than a year old, experts say it is unlikely they will attempt to return to the UK to breed this year.

Ms Ward continued: “Older godwits should be setting off right now. We’re appealing to all birdwatchers to keep their eyes out for marked birds.”

The conservation of black-tailed godwits has been the focus of other UK-based programmes in recent years. A project in November 2017 witnessed seven conservation charities and organisations – including the RSPB, Natural England, Plantlife and Buglife – launch Back from the Brink, which aims to improve and replace habitats in the UK for 20 threatened species, of which the black-tailed godwit is one.

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