Interesting Facts About Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Don’t Mistake It for Sparrow!

The spoon-billed sandpiper, also known as spoonbill sandpiper, is one of the world’s rarest birds. The most distinctive feature of this bird is its spatulate bill. Efforts are being made to save this species because it’s in critical danger of extinction. Fortunately, there’s a good chance that they’ll succeed.
The spoon-billed sandpiper is 5.5-6 inches in length (14-16 centimeters); similar to that of a house sparrow. The measurements are; bill tip breadth 10–12 mm, bill 19–24 mm, wing 98–106 mm, and tail 37–39 mm. Apart from its distinctive plumage, one could hardly mistake spoon-billed sandpiper for a sparrow given its much longer legs and a very unusual spatulate bill that it uses to search for food in the shallow watery mud.
During the breeding season, adult birds (both females and males) are largely white below but with some brown speckling. They have a reddish-brown head and the upper body, streaked with brown. Their wings and upperparts are dark with red and brown edging to the wings. The red coloring turns to brown at other times of the year. The upperparts also turn to pale brown-grey with white trimming to the feathers.
Spoon-billed Sandpipers are now absent from most of their historical breeding range, including Belaya Spit that was once the largest core breeding area for the species. The bird breeds in far northeastern Russia along Bering Sea coast of the Chukotsk peninsula and southwards down the Kamchatka peninsula. Within this range, it requires specific types of habitat that are widely separated.
Spoon-billed Sandpipers depend heavily on Yellow Sea intertidal regions during their migration. They migrate down the Pacific coast of Japan, North and South Korea, China, and Russia to their main wintering grounds in Southeast Asia. While some birds still live in coastal southern China, Vietnam, and Thailand, most remaining spoon-billed sandpipers winter in coastal Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Spoon-billed sandpipers live in coastal marine sites, especially mudflats on the outer reaches of tidal estuaries during winter and migration. During the breeding season, they occupy the coastal tundra, most often near large coastal bays or lagoons. Within these areas, spoon-billed sandpipers nest among crowberry plants in more densely vegetated lowland tundra dominated by dwarf willow, sedges, and moss, or on sparsely vegetated gravel spits. They feed in wet tundra meadows, and along shallow ponds and lakeshores.
Below are six little-known, fascinating facts about spoon-billed sandpipers. Through these facts, you will learn a lot about this species. Enjoy!
1. The Spoonbill Sandpiper is now classified under the calidrid sandpipers. Sven Nilsson moved it to its current genus in 1821. Linnaeus first described it as Platalea pygmea in his Systema Naturae in 1758.
2. On the wintering grounds and during migration, Spoon-billed Sandpipers feed on various marine invertebrates including shrimp and polychaete worms. On the breeding grounds, they feed on a variety of adult and larval invertebrates, especially spiders, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, and midges. These birds also feed on some plant material including berries and grass seeds.
3. 3. Like sandpipers in the genus Calidris, Spoon-billed Sandpiper makes various sounds during the breeding season from the ground and during aerial display flights as well. Northward spring migrants may occasionally utter calls related to breeding. Vocalizations are probably limited to a few simple calls during winter and migration.
To date, researchers and scientists have not accomplished complete studies of the species vocalizations. However, new recordings from the 2011 expedition will provide a solid basis for future study.
4. Spoon-billed Sandpipers usually arrive on their breeding grounds in Russia during the final days of May or early June. Males immediately start displaying over favored habitat to mark their territory and attract a mate. They perform extraordinary courtship flights while circling their territories. They also deliver a repeated trill alternating with bursts of rapid wingbeats.
The male markedly reduces or stops his displays once a male and female have paired. The pair chooses a site to nest. The female starts laying a clutch of four eggs in a shallow tundra depression.
Once the female lays eggs, both adults incubate, usually in shifts lasting half a day. The eggs hatch in 19 to 23 days. The chicks leave the nest a day after hatching. They immediately start feeding themselves. The male leads them away from their nest and attends to them until they fledge almost twenty days later.
The female leaves soon after the eggs hatch and starts migrating south. The male also departs after the chicks reach fledging age. A few weeks later, the chicks to migrate south on their own.
5. In November 2011, conservationists took thirteen spoon-billed sandpipers to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire to initiate a breeding program. The birds spent sixty days in Moscow Zoo in quarantine in preparation for the 8,000 km journey. The thirteen birds hatched from the eggs collected in the north-eastern Russian tundra earlier. In 2013, conservationists hatched twenty chicks in Chukotka. Artificial incubation and captive rearing, known as headstarting, may boost survival rates from less than 25 percent to over 75 percent. Also, the removal of eggs may lead to a second clutch that the parents raised.
6. The main threats to the survival of spoon-billed sandpiper are the loss of tidal flats through its wintering and migratory range and loss of habitat on its breeding grounds. A 2010 study suggests that traditional bird trappers used to hunt these birds in Burma is a primary cause of the decline. The spoon-billed sandpiper is critically endangered, with a current population of less than 2500 – probably less than 1000 – adult birds. The Saemangeum Reclamation Project partially destroyed the critical staging area at Saemangeum, South Korea. The remaining wetlands are under serious threat of reclamation in the future. Long-term remote sensing studies have revealed that reclamation has destroyed up to 65 percent of crucial spoon-billed sandpiper habitat in North Korea, South Korea, and China.

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