Spoon-billed Sandpiper

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Common Name: Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Scientific Name: Eurynorhynchus pygmeus

Size: 5½ - 6¼ inches (14-16 cm)

Habitat: Asia; it has a limited breeding range on the Chukotsk peninsula and southwards up to the isthmus of the Kamchatka peninsula, in north-eastern Russia. It migrates down the western Pacific coast through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, mainland China, Hong Kong (China) and Taiwan (China), to its main wintering grounds in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Wintering birds have also been recorded from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Found almost exclusively at sea-coasts where there are sandy ridges sparsely vegetated by mosses, dwarf willows and grasses, interspersed with or neighboring to salt marshes and brackish ponds.

Status: Critically endangered. Global population: 450-1,000 with a decreasing trend. Breeding success is very low: average productivity was 0.66 young fledged per nest in 2005, and much lower in 2007, and this is compounded by a very low rate of juveniles and adults returning to the breeding grounds. The species now has an ageing and rapidly declining population with little recruitment.

Throughout its migratory and wintering ranges, tidal flats are being reclaimed for industry, infrastructure and aquaculture and are becoming increasingly polluted. The important staging area at Saemangeum and Geum estuary, South Korea, including the Mangyeung and Tongjin estuaries, has already been reclaimed, and remaining wetlands are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future. Although not specifically targeted, it is regularly caught in nets set to catch other waders for food in the key wintering areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar. There are no immediate threats to the breeding grounds, but nests are sometimes destroyed by dogs. Human disturbance, both by residents and researchers, may cause increased levels of nest desertion and predation by foxes and skuas. Shorebirds, including this species, are also occasionally killed by children with slingshots; one male was also shot by a Russian hunter near the Chinese border in 2008. Small but significant numbers of birds and their eggs have been collected for scientific purposes in the last 20 years, with one small colony completely wiped out due to this activity. Climate change and associated habitat shifts are expected to impact negatively on this species and others dependent on tundra habitat for breeding. Modeling indicates that 57% of the breeding habitat for this species could be lost by 2070.

Protected areas in its breeding, staging and wintering areas include Moroshechnaya and several local wildlife refuges on the Chukotsk peninsula (Russia), Yancheng and Chongming Dongtan (China), Mai Po (Hong Kong), Lanyang estuary (Taiwan), Point Calimere and Chilka lake (India), and Xuan Thuy Nature Reserve (Vietnam). Annual surveys are undertaken of breeding sites on Chukotka and over 450 adults and young have been ringed on the breeding grounds since 2000. Local support groups have been established in some breeding areas and negotiations have taken place to reduce short-term hunting pressure at one of the key wintering sites in Myanmar. A Species Action Plan was produced in 2008.

Diet: Insects, crustaceans, worms, mollusks, and seeds. It feeds in shallow water or wet mud, sweeping the spatulate bill from side to side much like larger spoonbills do.

Nesting: Sexes appear alike; Females slightly larger. During breeding season, plumage around the throat and head have an orange brown tint. It has a very specialized breeding habitat, using only lagoon spits with crowberry-lichen vegetation or dwarf birch and willow sedges, together with adjacent estuary or mudflat habitats that are used as feeding sites by adults during nesting. The species has never been recorded breeding further than 5 km from the sea shore. Breeding birds are very site faithful and monogamous. Nesting occurs in June and July. Clutches contains usually four eggs and incubation occurs in 18–20 days, by both parents. Females leave when chicks are four to six days old, leaving the males to rear the young.

Cool Facts: With its spatulate bill the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is unique among waders. It is the only globally threatened sandpiper breeding in the Arctic.

Spoon-billed Sandpipers are very territorial; the male's display flight includes hovering, circling and diving, and uttering a buzzing trill.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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