Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Also known as: spoonbill sandpiper
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCharadriiformes
FamilyScolopacidae
GenusEurynorhynchus (1)
SizeLength: 14 – 16 cm (2)

The spoon-billed sandpiper is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (3).

An attractive little bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill, this sandpiper has winter plumage as pretty as its breeding colours. Non-breeding adults have pale brown-grey upperparts, with a white trim around each feather. The underparts are white and it lacks the colours seen in breeding adults, which have a russet red head, neck and breast streaked with brown, and dark upperparts with pale brown and red edging to the feathers. It calls quietly with a ‘preeep’ and a ‘wheeet’ (2).

With a scattered breeding range from the Chukotsk peninsula to the Kamchaka peninsula in northeastern Russia, the spoon-billed sandpiper migrates to its wintering grounds in South and Southeast Asia, where just a few small sites are consistently visited. Fewer than 1,000 individuals remain (2).

The spoon-billed sandpiper breeds in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation, choosing nesting sites carefully (2). It always breeds within six kilometres of the sea (4). During the non-breeding season it is found on mudflats and saltpans (2).

This monogamous bird is strongly territorial and will return year after year to breed at the same nest site. The first males to arrive at the breeding grounds occupy the largest territories, although these shrink as additional males arrive and compete for space. Pairs meet and mate, laying eggs that are incubated for 19 to 23 days and hatch between early July and early August. After the chicks have emerged from their shells, each family moves to a new area for around two weeks until the chicks can fly. During this time both parents tend to their young but the male takes over in the final few days. They migrate to the wintering grounds at the end of August (2).

Searching amongst low vegetation, wet meadows and in water, the spoon-billed sandpiper uses its unusual bill to probe for small invertebrates. It will also forage by pushing its bill into the muddy sand of coastal areas. Chicks eat mainly small insects and seeds (2).

With very particular habitat requirements, high nest site fidelity and a small population, habitat loss has had a large impact on this species. As with many coastal regions, tidal mudflats are being reclaimed for industry or aquaculture. Pollution, climate change and human disturbance have also altered the habitat of this species, and hunting of shorebirds contributes to the decline of the spoon-billed sandpiper. Recent population surveys indicate an extremely rapid decline in this species, with reduced productivity, leading to fears that the population is ageing rapidly (2).

The spoon-billed sandpiper is protected in several areas throughout its range but would benefit from enforced legal protection wherever it is present. Shorebird hunting is prolific and affects many species; a ban would have wide-ranging benefits. A Species Action Plan was produced for the spoon-billed sandpiper in 2008, but urgent conservation action is now required to prevent its extinction (2).

For further information on the spoon-billed sandpiper and its conservation see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (October, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/search/species_search.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3060&m=0
  3. Global Register of Migratory Species (May, 2008)
    http://www.groms.de
  4. Birds Korea (May, 2008)
    http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Miscellaneous/BK-BM-Spoon-billed-Sandpiper-Population-Crash.shtml