Keepers at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire save two extremely rare laughing thrush chicks

Two rare laughingthrush chicks have been hand-reared by keepers.
Two rare laughing thrush chicks have been hand-reared by keepers. Credit: Whipsnade Zoo

Two abandoned chicks of an extremely rare laughingthrush bird have been saved by keepers at Britain's biggest zoo.

The chicks had to be hand-reared after their parents at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire stopped looking after their eggs.

There are thought to be fewer than 250 adult blue crowned laughingthrushes left in the wild, due to habitat loss and wildlife trade.

The chicks at Whipsnade are part of a programme to protect endangered species.

Keepers had to simulate their natural parenting patterns by turning the eggs five times a day while they were in the incubator.

They also had to create a nest for the newly hatched chicks and feed them 12 times a day, until the birds were able to feed themselves. 

Blue crowned laughingthrushes are endemic to the forests and shrubland of China’s Jiangxi Province and are classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.

The rare laughingthrush birds are part of a breeding programme to protect endangered species. Credit: Whipsnade Zoo

Deputy bird team leader Claire McSweeney said: “We are so delighted that these two globally significant chicks, who we have been caring for since before they even hatched, are doing so well.

"Hand-rearing chicks like these requires utter dedication and round-the-clock efforts from the whole team. We have to get everything right.

"When building the nest, for example, we have to make sure it’s cosy enough for them to huddle up together but has enough space for them to move apart a little if they get too hot.

"We made their nest with coconut fibres and astroturf, and included twigs small enough for them to get their tiny feet around, as it is vital that they develop the muscles to grip things.

“We hand-fed the chicks a pureed mixture at first, but gradually weaned them onto a mixture of fruit and insects.

"Once they were strong enough, we started leaving food out for them so they could try eating independently.

“After about two weeks, once their eyes were fully open and their tail and wing feathers had come through, they began to sit on the edge of the nest, trying to flap.

"In the fourth week, all their remaining body plumage grew in, and we knew it was time for them to be released into the fledgling aviary, where they could start to explore their environment and practice flying from branch to branch.”

When the birds are old enough, they will join their parents in the zoo’s blue crowned laughingthrush habitat.

A social species, laughingthrushes usually stay with their flock throughout winter before finding mates in the summer months. 

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