Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus

The spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) can be found in Southeast Asia in the winter and northeastern Russia during its breeding season in warmer months. In Russia, its breeding range includes the sea coats adjacent to the Chukchi Peninsula and south to the Kamchatka peninsula. It will migrate through many areas along the Pacific Coast including Japan, North and South Korea, and China to get to its main wintering range. In this area of Southeast Asia, it can be found in many areas like India, Singapore, and Bangladesh all the way into Thailand, Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia, among other areas.

The spoon-billed sandpiper was first described in 1758 in the Systema naturae, written by Linnaeus. It was described as Platalea pygmea until Sven Nilsson classified it into its current genus in 1821. This species of wader actually belongs on the Calidrid group, but has not been re-classified due to its particular distinctions, which have placed it in its own genus.

The spoon-billed sandpiper can have an average wingspan of up to 4.1 inches and bill length between .7 and .9 inches, with an average body length between 5.5 and 6.2 inches. Its most distinguishing feature, from which it was named, is its spatula shaped bill. Its underbelly is white in color, while the upper parts are typically blackish in color. Adults that are able to breed have light red fringing on the back, while non-breeding adults have pale greyish upper parts.  The neck, head, and breast of breeding adults in typically reddish brown in color with brown stripes, and all adults have black feet.

The spoon-billed sandpiper will emit a soft preep call or a high-pitched wheer call when communicating. When conducting a mating display, males will emit a song consisting of an erratic buzzing followed by a descending trill preer-prr-prr. This display also involves flight, where the male will hover briefly, dive, and circle while singing. When feeding, this bird will stand in the water and swing its open bill back and forth.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is threatened mainly by habitat loss in both its summer and winter range. The current population is estimated to be less than 2,500, and is thought to be at less than 1,000 mature individuals. In Burma, studies conducted in 2010 showed that a common threat could be traditional bird trapping as a means of hunting. The spoon-billed sandpiper was previously considered Endangered by the IUCN, until studies showed that it was declining enough to become extinct. In 2008, it was placed on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Critically Endangered.” It is thought that without sufficient conservation efforts, this bird could become extinct within the next ten to twenty years.

One important area of wetlands, Saemangeum, South Korea, has already been reclaimed, but the surrounding wetlands are still vulnerable. It does occur in a few protected areas including Yancheng in China, Point Calimere and Chilka Lake in India, and the Mai Po Marshes in Hong Kong. On November 14, 2011, the BBC announced that thirteen individuals of this species were placed in the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire in order to create a breeding program that could save the species.

Image Caption: Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus), Pak Thale, Ban Laem, Phetchaburi, Thailand. Credit: JJ Harrison/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)