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Rare bird doing well

Red necked phalaropes boosting the local population at Fetlar. Photo Iris Wander/RSPB

ONE of Shetland’s rarest breeding birds has just had a record breaking season.

The number of male red necked phalaropes at the RSPB reserve on Fetlar soared from six in 2008 to 36 this year, equalling the reserve’s all time record.

The news comes a week after Shetland’s most popular migrant, the puffin, was added to the red list for species facing extinction.

Shetland as a whole was home to 60 breeding male phalaropes this year, 20 more than the previous record in 1996.

RSPB Shetland officer Malcie Smith said it was exciting to see the bird doing so well at the Fetlar reserve.

“It’s very satisfying that our work here is paying off and that birds are now breeding in record numbers,” he said.

Phalaropes are also doing well elsewhere in Scotland, with a record number of six males in Argyll and a pair breeding in North Uist for the first time in 31 years.

The delicate wading bird is well known for its reversed sexual role where the male is solely responsible for incubating eggs and caring for chicks.

An RSPB study carried out two years ago in Shetland revealed these tiny birds have the longest migratory journey of any species, clocking up an extraordinary 16,000 miles between Fetlar and the sea of the Galapagos Islands west of Ecuador.  

A further study with 10 tagged birds has been carried out this year to consolidate the findings.

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