Spoon-billed Sandpiper – conservation of the flagship species of East-Asian Flyway in Russia

Spoon-billed Sandpiper – conservation of the flagship species of East-Asian Flyway in Russia

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is the fastest-cutting red book species of birds in Russia. Over the past twenty years, the number has decreased by 90%. In 2009, the species was given the status of “critically endangered, on the verge of extinction” in the International Red Book (IUCN). The subject of extinction includes destruction of habitats in the tidal zone at the wintering and migrations areas, low breeding productivity of the species (on average, one pair grows one chick over the summer) and poaching hunting in the wintering grounds.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper (SBS) (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) is a small wader of Calidritinae subfamily, the nesting endemic of Russia inhabiting a narrow strip of the coastal tundra on Chukotka and the Koryak Upland. It is distinguished from the other

relative species by the shape of bill that looks like a small spoon.

The global population of the Spoonbilled Sandpiper does not exceed 200 breeding pairs.

The species is breeding on selected crowberry spits near coastal lagoons and moraine hill tundra within 5 km from the coastline Flyway: 8000 km long flyway route via Kamchatka, Sakhalin island, Japan, Korea and China Wintering grounds: in China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam Wintering and stopover habitat: exclusively intertidal areas. However, over 50% of tidal ecosystems in East Asia have been transformed by humans. They shrink drastically, faster than rainforests! The rescue of the sandpiper relies on the preservation of its habitats.

90% population decline in last 30 years Main causes of extinction:

-       Habitat loss and pollution- large scale reclamation and coastal development of many crucial nonbreeding habitats, almost exclusively intertidal mudflats;

-       Hunting and trapping at wintering and stopover grounds;

-       Low breeding success of the species in Chukotka (in average one pair raises less than one chick per season).

If the most urgent measures are not taken soon and the declining rate remains the same - the species might become extinct in the next 10-15 years

Conservation in the breeding grounds:

-       Survey of unknown breeding grounds in Chukotka and stopovers sites at Kamchatka and Sakhalin;

-       Monitoring of the key breeding sites at Meinypilgyno (Chukotka): studying breeding biology, color marking, study of population dynamics and predation pressure. New important breeding areas discovered in 2015;

-       Head Starting program -aiming to increase the survival rates and help restore the population;

-       Creation of protected areas in Russian SBS breeding and stopover grounds;

-        Addressing threats: shooting at stopovers, illegal taxidermy collection and habitat change;

-       Work with government and communities;

-       Educational and awareness work.

On Asian coastline:

-       Organization of expeditions to find new wintering places, monitoring at wintering and stopping places;

-       Organizing conferences and workshops as a platform for international collaboration Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation is coordinated by the International Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force(TF) of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, which includes representatives from all countries along the flyway and support groups from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia and USA. The TF is chaired by Russia  state representative of the EAAFP and Birds Russia coordinates the implementation;

-       Coordination of international activities and a dialogue with the governments of China and the countries of Southeast Asia to reduce the rate of transformation of the tidal zone, and creation of protected areas;

-       Joint research within of the Russian-Chinese agreement on the protection of migratory birds;

-       Mitigating hunting, trapping and poisoning of coastal waterbirds along the flyway. Providing alternative livelihoods;

-       Raising awareness, education programs and developing of a dialog with governments and others stakeholders regarding the needs to stop intertidal reclamations and reinforce protection of critical network of sites along the flyway.

Program for creating the SBS “population reserve” in the UK

Even if the decline is halted immediately the future of the species and the thriving of the population require birds bred in captivity. Whether or not the species survives in nature in the coming years, the genetic reserve within a captive population may serve as the basis for a reintroduction program. In 2010 and 2011 a total of 28 eggs and chicks were collected in South Chukotka and transferred to the leading world authority in the field – captive breeding center of WWT in Slimbridge, UK.

They had to travel 12 000 km. Now the birds hatched from those eggs are fully grown and ready to breed. Currently, 25 adult Spoonbilled Sandpipers grown from eggs brought from Chukotka nowadays live in Slimbridge, and already make their first attempts to postpone laying. The first breeding case in captivity recorded in 2016: two pairs had one chick, but unfortunately both of them died.

This project shows a unique example of international co-operation. For the first time ever in Russia so many players among international and Russian conservation organizations are involved in the program of saving one particular species.


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