Fate of weird wader on knife edge
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus has undergone a rapid recent population decline and faces imminent extinction unless conservation measures are taken. These are the findings of a new paper published in BirdLife International's journal Bird Conservation International.
Data from across the entire breeding range in the Russian far north-east confirm a continuing strong decline. The species appears to suffer from poor survival at the crucial juvenile stage and habitat loss and hunting are highlighted as major threats. Because of these recent declines, the species was uplisted to Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN in 2008. There are now thought to be less than a thousand individuals remaining.
"Concerted international conservation action is essential if this species is to avoid extinction", said Christophe Zöckler, the paper's lead author.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper has a specialised breeding habitat, using only lagoon spits with very specific vegetation, together with adjacent estuary or mudflat habitats that are used as feeding sites by adults during nesting. During the non-breeding season it prefers mixed sandy tidal mudflats and very shallow water, mainly in the outermost parts of river deltas and outer islands. Unfortunately, throughout its migratory and wintering ranges, tidal flats are being reclaimed for industry, infrastructure and aquaculture and are becoming increasingly polluted.
Two recent surveys of non-breeding areas however, raise some hope for the species. An expedition to the Gulf of Martaban in Myanmar earlier this year, found at least 89 individuals. However, all along the survey route the team encountered evidence of significant hunting and trapping pressure on wading birds that included a number of Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Urgent action is required to safeguard the species here, and there is a need to collaborate with the local communities to establish alternative forms of income. BANCA (BirdLife in Myanmar), a BirdLife Species Guardian for the sandpiper has been coordinating these surveys and is involved in socio-economic surveys which provide the basis for efforts to address the hunting of Spoon-billed Sanpiper and other shorebirds in the Gulf of Martaban.
"Concerted international conservation action is essential if this species is to avoid extinction" —Christophe Zöckler, Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Team
Another survey in Bangladesh this year found at least 50 individuals at two main sites. This is the highest count in the country for over two decades and might still represent only a relatively small fraction of the total Bangladeshi wintering population, as other suitable areas proved impossible to survey. This underscores the relative importance of this country as a crucial non-breeding site and means that protection of sites threatened by threats as diverse as major infrastructure development and subsistence hunting is of paramount importance.
"The situation is dire for Spoon-billed Sandpiper but not yet beyond hope", concluded Zöckler. "If we act now we can turn the tide for this amazing species."
"If this decline continues, these amazing birds won't be around for much longer", says Evgeny Syroechkovskiy of Birds Russia.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one of the species benefitting from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. In August 2008, WildSounds became a Species Champion for Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat.
Bird Conservation International is the official journal of BirdLife International. It provides stimulating, up-to-date coverage of bird conservation topics important in today's world. For more information click here.
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