Tuamotu sandpiper (Prosobonia cancellata)

GenusProsobonia (1)
SizeSize: 15 – 17 cm (2)
Weight32 – 44 g (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).

The Tuamotu sandpiper is a small, short-winged wader with a variably mottled brown and buff plumage, a bold creamy-white stripe above the eye and a very short, sharp black bill (2) (3) (4). Underparts are generally paler than upperparts, and may be spotted or barred brown, while the legs and feet are dirty yellow to dark olive grey (2) (4). Both sexes are alike, but females tend to be slightly larger and paler than males on average (4).

As its common name suggests, this bird is endemic to the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, where it has apparently disappeared from many atolls, although data is scarce. The species is now extinct on Kiritimati (Christmas Island), Kiribati. Although non-migratory, this bird may visit islands where it does not nest (3).

Found on tiny atolls, mainly on beaches, shores, gravel and in scrub (2) (3).

The breeding season of this small bird is generally between April and June, although it occurs at different times on different islands (4), and has been observed as late as August (2). Nests are constructed along shorelines, usually on pebbly rather than sandy substrate, and consist of nothing more than a slight hollow lined with bits of shell, coral debris and plant fragments (2) (4). One nest is known to have contained a clutch of two eggs (2) (4).

The Tuamotu sandpiper’s feeding habits are poorly understood, but the diet is thought to mainly contain insects including leafhoppers, wasps and at least four species of ant, as well as some plant matter (2) (4).

The Tuamotu sandpiper has disappeared from much of its former range and is undergoing a continuing decline due to habitat loss and the effects of introduced species. The threats to the survival of this bird are mounting as its island environment becomes increasingly colonised, encroached upon and disturbed by humans, who destroy habitat for settlements and coconut plantations. The introduction of predators such as cats and rats, particularly the black rat (Rattus rattus), is another serious concern and has probably eliminated the species from all but the most infrequently visited islands. As a result, this formerly widespread bird is now restricted to just a few known locations that are typically predator-free, uninhabited islands (3). An additional concern has been expressed about the impacts of climate change and sea-level rises, which have the potential to flood and submerge the small islands on which this endangered species lives (5).

Research expeditions in 1999, 2001 and 2003 have helped collect and collate valuable information on the Tuamotu sandpiper and its distribution, but further surveys are still desperately needed (3) (6). Further conservation measures advocated include identifying suitable islands for translocation, either rat and cat-free or where eradication is possible, and developing a recovery plan for the species (3). If measures such as these are not undertaken soon, this bird may fall victim to the ever growing extinction crisis that currently threatens our planet (2).

For more information on the Tuamotu sandpiper 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:

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2006)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World – Hoatzin To Auks. Vol. 3. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (November, 2006)
  4. Biodiversity.mongabay.com (November, 2006)
  5. McCarthy, J.J., Canziani, O.F., Leary, N.A., Dokken, D.J. and White, K.S. (2001) Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Unknown. Available at:
  6. MANU: The Ornithological Society of Polynesia (November, 2006)