Spoon-billed sandpipers threatened by trapping in China

Spoon-billed sandpiper feeding

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Endangered spoon-billed sandpipers arriving at their wintering grounds in China are being threatened by nets designed to trap shorebirds.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is one of the world's rarest birds.

Recent sightings of the bird at several new sites along the coast of southern China indicate the species is more widespread than thought.

But the study also found evidence of large-scale shorebird trapping using "mist nets" in some of these key areas.

Last month four spoon-billed sandpipers were sighted at new wintering grounds in Fucheng, south-west Guangdong Province: the latest evidence that the bird is migrating to more widespread areas in China than previously known.

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Members of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society discovered a group of the critically endangered birds in partially drained fishponds in Fucheng.

During winter, spoon-billed sandpipers (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) migrate from their breeding grounds in northeastern Russia and travel to South, South East and East Asia.

The sparrow-sized wading bird is the only species to be born with its distinctive spoon-shaped bill, which it uses to peck and probe in mud to find food.

The latest sightings, along with reports of the bird at several other sites in southern China in recent years, "[indicate] that this is a more important wintering area for the species than was previously known", according to BirdLife International.

However, the study, carried out by several conservation organisations, also reported that the practice of shore-bird trapping in some of these important wintering sites for spoon-billed sandpipers and other migratory birds has worsened in recent years.

According to BirdLife International: "Illegal bird-netting now poses a major threat to spoon-billed sandpipers and other shorebirds."

In 2003 the team discovered a spoon-billed sandpiper caught in a bird trapper's net in Zhanjiang.

And during their recent survey the team of conservationists recorded a total of 460 mist nets in use beside shorebird roost-sites on fishponds, paddyfields, marshes and sandbars on the coast.

Spoon-billed sandpipers hatched in the UK for the first time in 2012

According to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), the species has declined by 90% in the past 10 years and there may be less than 100 breeding pairs left in the wild.

Hunting and habitat destruction in their wintering grounds are known major threats to the bird.

BirdLife International says this evidence of extensive shorebird trapping has been reported to the Guangdong Forestry Department.

According to the organisation: "Discussions are under way amongst Chinese birdwatchers and conservationists about how to support the local government agencies to address the trapping of spoon-billed sandpiper and other migratory birds... at the key sites for these birds."

The team of conservationists aim to locate more wintering spoon-billed sandpipers in Fujian, Guangxi and Hainan in southern China.

In 2011 organisations in the UK started a captive breeding programme to help boost the birds' numbers at the WWT reserve in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

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