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Great Thick-knee Esacus recurvirostris
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has been uplisted to Near Threatened on the basis that it is expected to undergo a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations owing to human pressures on riverine ecosystems and the construction of dams. It has already undergone precipitous declines in South-East Asia but its status currently appears more secure in India.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Taxonomic note
The retention of the genus Esacus follows Andrew (1992) contra Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), because its merger with Burhinus does not do justice to the highly distinctive nature of Burhinus (=Esacus) giganteus

Burhinus recurvirostris Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993)

Distribution and population
Esacus recurvirostris occurs across a wide range in southern Asia, being found in Iran, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Formerly numerous, in Bangladesh there have been hardly any sightings in the last 20 years (P. Thompson in litt. 2013), while in Nepal it has declined in range and population and may now be restricted to the Koshi Barrage area, with the national population now possibly as low as ten individuals (C. Inskipp & H. S. Baral in litt. 2013). The recent status in Myanmar is poorly-known, but it has disappeared from Bagan since 1995 (C. Robson in litt. 2013), although the country still contains large tracts of potentially suitable habitat. In Laos the major losses occurred decades ago but declines have continued (surveys in 1997-2004 found a large population in the Mekong between Vientiane and Louangphabang, but an intensive survey there in 2011-2012 found no birds), and national extinction seems likely (J. W. Duckworth in litt. 2013). It remains more numerous on the Indian subcontinent, where it prefers larger rivers but also occurs on still water, but declines are believed to have taken place here too (P. Jayadevan in litt. 2013).

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 1,000-25,000 individuals, roughly equating to 670-17,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Precipitous declines have occurred in parts of South-East Asia, but trends in India, which now probably holds the bulk of the population, are less clear, making analysis of past population trends difficult. Nevertheless, the species is expected to undergo a moderately rapid reduction over the next three generations, as threats, such as dam construction and disturbance, increase in prevalence.

It favours riverbed shingle and rocks, stony banks and mud around large lakes, but sometimes visits nearby grassy flats and also occurs infrequently on coastal beaches and estuaries. It is largely sedentary, but undergoes local movements forced by rising water levels (del Hoyo et al.1996).

Nest predation by dogs, disturbance by fishermen and domestic animals, and opportunistic harvesting has caused chronically low breeding success of riverine nesting birds throughout South-East Asia (Goes in press). In Nepal the species is seriously threatened by disturbance and the degradation and loss of its riverine habitat. The multitude of hydroelectric dam projects completed, underway and planned on large rivers in its range, which threaten to alter flow regimes and inundate nesting habitat downstream, is now perhaps the most significant threat across much of the range. On the Sesan and Sekong rivers in Cambodia, the species has nearly disappeared (A. Claassen in litt. 2013). This recent precipitous decline on the Sesan is probably due to upstream Vietnamese dams (sudden water level rises inundating nests), and imminent extinction there seems unavoidable, and with further dams planned the fate of the small Sekong population does not seem more promising, even if appropriate conservation actions are implemented (Goes in press). Planned hydro-power dams on the main Mekong channel in southern Laos, at Stung Treng and Sambor (Kratie) would lead to major alteration of flood regimes and river ecology if built, and could arguably lead to regional extinction in the medium term (Goes in press).

Conservation and research actions in place
No targeted conservation actions are known for this species, although some of its habitat is protected.

Conservation and research actions proposed
There is urgent need for nest-protection programmes and monitoring of human activities during the dry season. Carry out regular surveys to monitor population trends throughout its range. Quantify the severity and impact of threats across its range. Carry out awareness-raising activities to alleviate human pressures on riverine ecosystems, and lobby against high-impact dam projects. Increase the area of suitable habitat that receives effective protection.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Goes, F. Birds of Cambodia: an Annotated Checklist.

Thewlis, R. M.; Timmins, R. J.; Evans, T. D.; Duckworth, J. W. 1998. The conservation status of birds in Laos.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Symes, A.

Srinivasan, S., Krishnan, A., Duckworth, J.W., Thompson, P., Jayadevan, P., Claassen, A., Robson, C., Timmins, R., Porter, R., Goes, F., Baral, H. & Inskipp, C.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Esacus recurvirostris. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Burhinidae (Thick-knees)
Species name author (Cuvier, 1829)
Population size 670-17000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 2,970,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species