Black-tailed godwit threesome seen for the first time

A ménage-a-trois between rare wading birds has been witnessed by staff at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Norfolk.

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Male black-tailed godwit

Employees monitoring the black-tailed godwits at WWT’s Welney reserve have reported a male working closely with two females to jointly raise a brood of chicks.

It’s thought to be the first record of collaborative breeding in the normally monogamous black-tailed godwits. 

WWT Welney warden Louise Clewley said, “We can’t yet be sure of the story behind these three birds, and we may never know, but if it’s working then more power to them.” 

The reserve is one of only two places in the UK where the rare waders breed and experts think it could be a reaction to the very low numbers left. 

Clewley added: “Incredibly, these few breeding birds at Welney make up six percent of the entire UK population, so it’s crucial that they, and we, do all we can to ensure they successfully rear a new generation each summer.” 

The adults are being very careful to shelter the chicks so it’s not yet been possible to count them.

If there are more than four, the usual number for a single female, that would indicate that the male bred with both females rather than one acting as nanny to the other’s brood.

Two pairs of godwits have already hatched broods on the reserve before this unusual family arrangement was seen. 

Understanding how the birds breed and behave is crucial to helping the population to recover.

Mark Whiffin from the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science said, “The male godwit with two females is unique in our experience and fascinating behaviour to witness. We wait to see if they are both with him next year.” 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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