BIRD experts have hatched a cunning plan to keep a rare egg safe.
Staff at Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are on alert to snatch a precious Chilean flamingo egg, which they expect to be laid any day now.
It will be the first time in six years that one will have been laid at the centre.
But wardens, rather than guarding against illegal collectors or poachers, fear the mother may accidentally break it.
They are also concerned it may be targeted by gulls swooping on it and taking it away.
Leanne McCormella, trust marketing manager, said: “We are on alert for the egg to be laid by a Chilean flamingo, the first since 2006.
“They only lay one, rather than a clutch, so it can get knocked off the nest by a clumsy flamingo or predated by gulls.
“We are almost 100 per cent sure that our Chilean flamingoes will lay eggs this year.
“They only lay one, so they’re very precious and we need to grab them as soon as possible.”
After being laid, the eggs are swapped for wooden ones, so the adults don’t notice, and incubated in the Waterfowl Nursery until they start “chipping”.
“Shortly before it hatches, the egg is returned to the mum and dad, who then rear the chick, which can live to be more than 60 years old,” said Leanne.
The centre is now appealing for volunteers to help keep an eye on the flock and watch out for any eggs.
There are six species of flamingo: the greater, Caribbean, Andean, James, Chilean and lesser.
Flamingoes have been part of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s breeding programme for 45 years and have been living at the Wearside centre since 1986.
They live in large colonies, which can be home to between 10,000 and one million birds at a time.
Hours before hatching, flamingo chicks begin calling from inside the egg, establishing a bond with their parents so they can find each other within the colony.
Washington’s flamingoes are striking pink with stilt-like legs and curved beaks.