Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

June 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

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.

Saving the California Condor

May 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Back in 1987, the California condor was considered to be extinct in the wild, with only twenty-seven birds remaining in captivity. Now, thanks to conservation and breeding projects, America’s largest flying bird is making a comeback, and today there are a recorded number of 394 California condors in the US, with 181 of those being out in the wild.

Michael Mace of San Diego Zoo and Safari Park has noted that, all being well, a count of 400 should be reached by the end of the breeding season, a number that has not been recorded since the 1930s. It is also hoped that the wild population of California condor will reach 200 by the end of the year – with some human intervention to counteract a man-made problem. Condor’s feed on marine animal carcasses, but due to the run-off of DDT into the oceans, where it breaks down into a chemical known as DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) and is absorbed by marine life, the birds land up eating the harmful chemical, resulting in weakened egg shells. To overcome this, conservationists replace the thin-shelled eggs with eggs that have been laid by captive birds, and these eggs are hatched naturally by the wild birds. The weakened eggs are then placed in incubators to hatch under the watchful eye of researchers. Although DDT has been banned in the US, it is still used in neighboring countries, entering rivers that run off into the ocean, creating a problem beyond the control of US authorities.

The natural habitat of the California condor is wooded mountains and scrublands. The birds have been reintroduced into the wilderness areas of California and Arizona. As scavengers that feed on dead carcasses, these huge birds are not fussy about what they eat and will tuck into rodents, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep or fish. However, when the birds feed on animals that have been killed with buckshot, it results in lead poisoning.

Despite the obstacles, conservationists are confident that their efforts are worthwhile. There are currently four breeding centers involved in the hatching of California condor eggs – the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park, the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, and the Oregon Zoo in Portland – with a satisfying degree of success.

Birds: Flamingos

October 9, 2006 by  
Filed under Features

Flamingos are easily-recognized, long-legged water bird species with a characteristic pink color on their feathers. They live in shallow, salty lagoons and lakes, in tropical regions of the world and they have a very unique feeding method. Flamingos filter their food out of water and mud and their odd, down-turned bill is one of the most specialized bills of all birds. It is lined with complicated horny plates, much like the baleen plates in a baleen whale’s mouth.

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