What is six inches high, has a funny looking beak and has to fly nearly 5000 miles every winter? It’s a spoon billed sandpiper and according to conservationists, its days are numbered. The Lilliputian birds live in the far eastern Chukotka region of Russia and may be down to 60 remaining pairs. A conservation team of staff from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Birds Russia, working with the RSPB, Moscow zoo and other organizations has set out to find as many remaining birds as possible and help them breed in captivity. The plan is to eventually release the adult birds and their babies back into the wild.
The biggest enemies of this reddish-brown bird with dark brown streaks are trappers in Burma and Bangladesh who sweep up other big birds for food and catch the smaller sandpipers at the same time. Since the birds fly from Russia to Burma and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh each winter, they run into the trappers on the way. They’ve also been spotted in Japan, North Korea, China, Thailand and Vietnam.
The team hopes to find some eggs which will be placed in an incubator facility on the tundra and hatched before being taken to the Moscow zoo and finally to Gloucestershire where staff will rear the birds.
"This is a remarkable species – a small Arctic wader, with a bill shaped like a spoon. This adaptation, entirely unique to its family, makes it one of the most weird and wonderful bird species on the planet," said Geoff Hilton, head of species research at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
Conservationists are also working with communities along the more critical areas of the tiny birds’ flight path to raise awareness and help the birds’ survival rates. Hunters are being compensated for releasing the live sandpipers from nets. If nets are destroyed in the process, the hunters will be compensated for the projected lost revenue.