The spoon-billed sandpiper is perilously close to extinction.
The situation is serious. 5 years ago there were fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the world. Thanks to conservation efforts that number is now around 200. But without further support it will be lost forever.
In a bold step, we have made two expeditions to Far East Russia to bring spoon-billed sandpiper eggs back to the purpose-built aviary at our headquarters in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. From the moment they arrive they require specialist around-the-clock care to ensure their survival. This flock is a precious insurance policy - a last resort in case the species becomes extinct in the wild.
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The odds are against this tiny bird. For every 20 eggs laid in the wild, only 3 survive to adulthood. Our headstarting programme increases this likelihood by 5 times, as we collect eggs and raise the chicks in safety for release once they are fledged. Their chance of survival leaps from a mere 15% to 85%. This vital work must continue in order to build the numbers enough that the species can recover.
One of the biggest threats the spoon-billed sandpipers face is hunters along their migration route in south Asia. Too often they become bycatch in nets used to catch bigger birds for food. We are working with our partners to stop this by helping the hunters find alternative livelihoods which don't involve hunting waterbirds.
In a world-first we’ve also worked with partners to fit the world’s smallest satellite tags to 3 spoon-billed sandpipers, to monitor these tiny birds along their epic migration. While headstarting improves the odds for these birds by increasing the number of fledglings, very little has previously been known about exactly how and where they travel along the east coast of Asia. This has limited efforts to identify and protect key areas for the birds between their breeding grounds on the tundra and their wintering grounds on the mudflats of south-east Asia. The tags have already provided information vital to protecting the future of the spoon-billed sandpipers - one of the world’s most endangered birds.