Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

June 14, 2011 by  
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The most tragic and shocking fact is that if nothing is done to increase the numbers of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, this bird could be extinct within the next decade. It is the harsh reality of loss of habitat, migration patterns and the fact that people set out traps to catch bigger birds and accidently trap these extremely endangered birds. With the last survey done along the Russian Arctic coast in 2009, it was estimated that there were between a hundred and twenty to two hundred breeding pairs remaining. But with them being so difficult to spot, it is feared that the number could be as low as sixty, which is alarming.

In 1758, Carl Linnaeus described the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, with its most distinctive feature being its bill that is spoon shaped. It is a very shy wading bird that is located in the Chukotka Region of Russia, but during winter they migrate to countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, taking on eight thousand kilometer journeys to find the warmth of summer. They have also been seen in China, Japan, Thailand and North Korea.

Fully grown, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a mere fourteen to sixteen centimeters, with a reddish brown head, and featuring dark brown streaks over its breast and neck. Conservationists estimate that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population declines by approximately a quarter every year, and therefore a dedicated team has joined forces to establish a project that will assist in increasing the population. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, along with Birds Russia, will be leading the team and working closely with a variety of organizations, such as the Moscow Zoo and RSPB, to make the project work. They are hoping to either capture a few breeding pairs of Spoon-billed Sandpipers to breed in captivity, and then release back into the wild, or find eggs which will be incubated at the Moscow Zoo, after which the chicks will be transported to Gloucestershire to be raised until they are old enough for release.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is organizing fundraising events for the project, as well as creating public awareness regarding the plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. While raising awareness, hunters will be given compensation if they are prepared to take down their nets, as well as given compensation for every live Spoon-billed Sandpiper they release. It will be the first time that conservationists will attempt to breed these birds in captivity, and if they are successful, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper might stand a fighting chance of avoiding extinction.

Emperor Goose (Chen canagica)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Emperor Goose (Chen canagica) is a beautiful bird species that can be found in Alaska as well as certain areas in Russia. Whilst it breeds in Alaska and Russia, the geese spend winter in the Aleutian Islands and occasionally a few end up on the Pacific Coast. When in the area, you certainly will want to keep your eyes peeled for these fine birds.

The Emperor Goose is about 18 inches in length with a wing span of 43 inches. The body is gray and the feathers are tipped in black and white. The feet and legs are distinctively orange. Adult Emperor Geese have a notable white head and nape with a black throat and pink bill. The black throat of the Emperor Goose distinguishes it from the Blue Goose. Oftentimes the neck and head will be stained a rust color from the iron of the tundra waters.

Nest sites are chosen by the female Emperor Goose just before she is ready to lay an egg. The nest is carefully lined with dead vegetation and down feathers later added in. The male Emperor Goose keeps a watch on the nest and female, chasing other males off from the nest area. The brave males will even attack predators or distract their attention from the nest. Clutch size for Emporer Geese ranges from 3 to 8 eggs. Incubation by the female lasts 23 to 27 days. Young ones leave the nest in about 50 to 60 days. In the breeding season, Emperor Geese will feed on plant matter. In winter their diet changes to mostly marine vegetation and invertebrates.

As the population of Emperor Geese is reduced and their range is limited, this bird species is vulnerable to a number of threats, including oil spills. Their lower numbers could also be due to subsistence hunting. A number of conservation management guidelines have been created for the preservation of the species. One such guideline states that, should the population drop below 60,000 for a period of 3 years, all hunting must be halted. Large sections of breeding sites are under the protection of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Winter habitats are under guard by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. If you are interested in assisting in maintaining populations of Emperor Geese, there are a number of conservation initiatives which you can support.

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is a small wader and looks similar to the elegant Greenshank, which has very long yellow legs and a long fine bill. The coloring of the two birds is also similar, both have a greyish brown plumage that is pale in winter and has a white line running up its back, which can easily be seen in flight. The Sandpiper breeds between the months April through to August and only in temperate zones. They will go from South-eastern Europe all the way through Russia to Western Siberia and Ussuriland. The courtship song of the sandpiper is a repeated tu-ee-u, tu-ee-u, but when they are on the breeding grounds and something alarms them, then they will make a sharp chip sound.

The Marsh Sandpipers will nest in grassy areas and by muddy shores of freshwater pools, thick grassy vegetation and boreal wetlands and if worse comes to worse they may tolerate brackish water. Their nests are never in large groups, mostly solitary or in loose colonies where the nests are far a part from each other. Both the male and female will take turns in incubating eggs and raising the juveniles.

Sandpipers will either spend their winter in sub-Saharan Africa and in India or they will head to Europe and a few will go to Southeast Asia and Australia. These birds are not scared by distance and will fly for long times with no stops at passage sites on their migration route. The birds that are not breeding may prefer to stay at their winter grounds throughout the year or spend summer at different sites.

The Marsh Sandpipers are threatened specifically by the overuse of herbicides and insecticides because of their tendency to forage in cultivated wetlands like rice fields. The Sandpiper is closely related to the Wood sandpiper and the Common Redshank. These birds find their food by probing in wet mud or shallow water and eat a large amount of insects and other similar type prey. The Marsh Sandpiper is one of the many species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds applies.

Research into Alloanointing in Crested Auklets

November 14, 2007 by  
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Crested auklets nest in large colonies on isolated island cliffs in Siberia and Alaska. These small black and grey seabirds have bright orange bills, with white facial feathers and a prominent feathered crest rising from their foreheads. Recent research carried out on crested auklets nesting on the St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea off the coast of Siberia, has revealed an interesting courting ritual which, until now, has not been observed in birds.

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The Wonders of Migration

July 21, 2006 by  
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Each autumn, many wild birds make an incredible journey. As the days get colder, and foods like fruit and insects get scarce, they move south to warmer lands (or north if they live in the Southern Hemisphere). This is known as migration.

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