Action Synopsis: Bird Conservation About Actions

Release captive-bred individuals into the wild to restore or augment wild populations of rails

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • One replicated study from Australia found that released Lord Howe Island woodhens Tricholimnas sylvestris successfully bred in the wild, re-establishing a wild population.
  • A replicated study from the UK found high survival of released corncrake Crex crex in the first summer (although no data were available on overwinter survival or breeding).
  • A replicated study in New Zealand found very low survival of North Island weka Gallirallus australis greyi following release, mainly due to predation by invasive mammals.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated study on Lord Howe Island, Australia, in 1981-3 (Miller & Mullette 1985) found that captive-bred Lord Howe Island woodhens Tricholimnas sylvestris survived for up to two years in the wild (released after a pig Sus scrufa and goat Capra hircus control programme had been running for several years, see ‘Control mammalian predators on islands’). In addition, 19 wild-bred young were reared successfully. Before captive breeding, there were only three pairs known in the wild, which were transferred to captivity. In total, 57 birds were released over three years. This study also describes the captive-breeding efforts, discussed in ‘Use captive breeding to increase or maintain populations’.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated study on North Island, New Zealand, in 1992-3 (Bramley & Veltman 1998) found that, of 17 North Island weka Gallirallus australis greyi released between October and March at a mixed habitat site, only one bird was alive more than seven months after release. Most individuals were killed by predators (mainly by domestic dogs Canis familiaris) and 12 individuals (71%) survived less than 50 days. Weka had small home ranges (average of 2.7 ha) and dispersed an average of only 1.3 km during the study.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A 2004 review of a corncrake Crex crex release programme in a wet grassland site in eastern England (Carter & Newbery 2004) found that only six chicks could be released into the wild in 2002 (due to predation in captivity), and that none was seen in the area the following year. From 140 eggs laid in 2003, 52 chicks were released during summer. Survival was apparently high, but data on overwinter survival and subsequent reproduction were not available. Captive birds were kept in a flock in autumn and winter and then paired off in the spring. Eggs were removed before hatching and incubated artificially. Once hatched, they were hand-fed until they could feed themselves and then released into a pen at the release site when ten days old before being released at 28 days old. This paper also discusses the translocation of red kites Milvus milvus to the UK, discussed in ‘Translocate individuals’.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Bird Conservation. Pages 137-281 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2020. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.


Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

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Bird Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Bird Conservation
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What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

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