More than a dozen critically-endangered spoon-billed sandpipers brought from the Russian tundra as eggs have successfully hatched in the UK, conservationists said.
The sandpiper is one of the most threatened bird species in the world, with fewer than 100 pairs in the wild and numbers falling by a quarter each year, leaving it facing extinction within five to 10 years.
Conservationists have launched an emergency captive breeding scheme, in a bid to preserve the population long enough to tackle the threats faced by the sandpipers along its migration route to South East Asia and its wintering grounds in Burma.
Last year, eggs were incubated and hatched in Russia, before being brought to the captive breeding facility at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.
But because of the difficulties experienced in transporting live birds from Russia to the UK, the experts this year decided to collect and transport eggs before they hatched. It is the first time the species has hatched in the UK.
It was a close run thing to get the eggs from the Russian Far East before they hatched, according to WWT's head of conservation breeding, Nigel Jarrett.
He said the first chicks emerged just hours after the team arrived at Slimbridge at the end of their week-long journey by helicopter and plane from Russia.
A few more eggs are hatching, but were collected when they were freshly laid, rather than in the ideal condition of having been incubated for a week by their parents, so might not survive.
The spoon-billed sandpiper, which has a unique spoon-shaped beak, is only the size of a bumblebee when it hatches. The newly-hatched chicks will be kept separately from the existing flock of 12 birds until they are much older.
The birds brought back last year will be mature and ready to breed next year, when they are two years old.