In Russia, close to the Arctic, there is a tiny, buff coloured bird that is born with a spoon for a mouth – the Spoon -billed sandpiper. This wader flies to Southeast Asia during winters looking for a warmer place to feed. You would think, with such a peculiar looking beak, it would be so easy to actually spot the bird when it is here in India or in the other countries it flies over while migrating. Sadly though, that is not the case. The spoon-billed sandpiper is really a very rare bird included in the ill famed list of top 100 threatened species in the world. There are less than 200 of spoon billed sandpipers in the world today and nothing is really known about there migration habits other than the surface facts. That’s why this year, a tiny transmitter has been placed on the back of 3 of these rare birds hoping that it would reveal more on their behaviour and eventually save the species.
Saving the Spoonies
Dr Nigel Clark, scientific advisor to the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force says,
“This satellite-tagging project is a major breakthrough for Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation. Conservation efforts to protect habitats and prevent hunting will be hampered unless we can find out where the birds are. A network of observers is now on high alert along the flyway, on the lookout for our tagged birds.”
The project work began in 2012 when researchers began a ‘headstarting’ programme for the birds nicknamed ‘spoonies’. They searched for and hatched wild eggs in incubators and till date have released 111 spoonies back into the wild. The project was a success but it still didn’t offer much information on the life the birds were leading. Where they went to, the migration route they took or where they overwintered.
The satellite tagging could be the answer to all these questions.
The sandpipers use the east coast of Asia as their migration route and face a number of threats as they fly along. They stop or fly via China, Japan and the two Koreas to spend the winter months in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and India. The primary threats are,
1. Habitat destruction with many of the wetlands and shorelines being converted to reclaimed land in countries like China and India.
2. Hunting. Birds are killed in Southern China, Myanmar and Bangladesh for eating.
3. Low rate of reproduction.
Three of the tags weighing just 1.6 g each, are now sending back signals after being glued to the backs of two female and one male sandpiper. The fingernail-sized tags will eventually fall off during moulting, but in the meantime they are sending back data as the Spoonies fly from the Jiangsu coast of China to their wintering sites, and hopefully back again to their breeding areas.
On 17 Nov, one of the satellite tagged spoonies was spotted near the port town of Xitou in Guangdong province, China. See the photos of this bird below,
The scientists are hoping that the tagging will help reveal the secret lives of spoon billed sandpipers and help documenting their exact population in the world.
If you wish to follow the live tracking go to this site,
Here is also a very rare video of a spoon-billed sandpiper mom,
If you spot a spoon-billed sandpiper anywhere in India, don’t forget to tell us! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org