Four great bustard chicks born on Salisbury Plain

Female great bustard on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire Nest sites are kept secret for fear the eggs will be stolen

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Conservationists hoping to reintroduce the great bustard to the UK are celebrating the hatching of four chicks.

The world's heaviest flying bird was hunted to extinction in the UK in 1832, but reintroduced to Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, six years ago.

This is the second year in which the birds have been bred successfully in the wild.

The RSPB said this was "fantastic news".

Hand-reared

An adult great bustard can be up to a metre (3ft) tall and weigh up to 44lb (20 kg). Its wingspan can reach nearly eight feet (2.4m).

Males perform elaborate mating displays in which they fan their wings out and inflate their necks to reveal white plumage.

The bustard's size made it an easy target for hunters, leading to its extinction, but in 2004 a project was launched to bring it back.

Since then, 104 birds have been hand-reared in Russia before being flown to the UK and released onto the Salisbury Plain.

Last year, at least three chicks were born in the wild and this year at least four more have been spotted.

Start Quote

I remember seeing displaying male bustards, and thinking no matter how far you go I don't think you will see a better sight in the bird world than that.”

End Quote David Waters Great Bustard Group

David Waters, founder of the Great Bustard Group and the driving force behind the reintroduction, said: "In spite of their considerable size, nesting females are notoriously hard to find, and thus other females are suspected of nesting in addition to the four we are aware of.

"We very much hope these females will turn up with their youngsters later in the autumn, since the mother-offspring bond is especially strong and long-lasting."

The nest sites are kept secret and eggs marked with permanent DNA glue to deter and help prosecute collectors.

'Lost wildlife'

One of the chicks born last summer was killed by a fox and another has not been seen for some months, although Mr Waters is optimistic it may still be alive.

The former policeman set up the Great Bustard Group in 1998 after becoming fascinated by the birds as a teenager.

"I remember thinking all the interesting birds live in places like Papua New Guinea or the Galapagos," he said.

"Then I remember seeing displaying male bustards, and thinking no matter how far you go I don't think you will see a better sight in the bird world than that."

Dr Mark Avery, conservation director for the RSPB, which is supporting the project, said: "Restoring lost wildlife and lost landscapes to Britain are among the RSPB's most important objectives.

"The encouraging signs that the return of the great bustard is edging closer is fantastic news."

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