THE patter of tiny webbed feet will soon be heard thanks to a breeding programme for rare birds.

A flock of Chilean flamingos at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, in Washington, Wearside, have laid about 15 eggs.

To make sure they hatch successfully, warden Darren Grieves takes the eggs shortly after they are laid and replaces them with false ones.

"Because the eggs are very vulnerable to damage on the clay nesting mounds, we have to swap them for false eggs at an early stage," he said.

"This allows us to incubate the eggs in a protected environment, while keeping the parent birds at the nest.

"This then enables us to return the egg to its rightful owner when the chick is ready to hatch."

The centre has had several notable successes already this year rearing rare and endangered birds.

These have included a single white-winged duck - the first time the species has bred at Washington, and several white-headed ducks.

Staff had to race to save those eggs in June, when the centre's hatchery suffered a power cut.

This year's ducklings can be viewed at the James Steel Nursery at the site.

Staff said the first flamingo chick should hopefully be back in the main colony by tomorrow.