Somewhere right now, winging its way along the western edge of the Pacific is one of the smallest and rarest shorebirds in the world. Prince of the ‘peeps’, an ornithological treasure, and one of the most sought-after birds on the planet, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, thanks to the work of dedicated conservationists, can still be seen today.
Right now, birders in Japan, Korea, and China are actively seeking the species as it passes through on migration, en route from its breeding grounds in eastern Russia to wintering sites scattered about the South China and Andaman Seas. Lucky birders and hard-working scientists checking shorebird concentration points could strike gold.
How long we can continue to admire this magnificent little wader, with its crazy bill, pudgy body, and fussy, frenetic movements, is an open question. According to the IUCN, this is a “critically endangered” species, and it is sobering to note that the next category after that is “extinct in the wild”. The species has lost significant habitat to disturbance, reclamation, and pollution, and suffers from hunting as well. But even before the “Spoonie” became so rare, it has long been a quest bird for wild bird enthusiasts.
The bill itself is such an oddity that it draws us to it; and in its breeding plumage, there are few other shorebirds that look as handsome. For North American birders, the fact that its breeding range is so close (just a few miles as the Spoonie flies), from Alaska birding outposts has always dared us to dream. A lucky few have seen it there; and of course, there was the legendary bird discovered by Barry Sauppe in Vancouver in 1978. Some wish to see it because it is so rare that there is real concern for its future. Some wish to see it simply because it is a wondrous avian curiosity and a bucket list bird. Others seek them as part of their work on tracking their migratory routes to their wintering grounds. Whatever the motivation, seeing the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a thrill to remember forever.
To learn more about how to help support Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation, click here.
In 2019, seek the Spoonie at several spectacular sites, from Russia to China and further south to Thailand. Join a Rockjumper adventure today!
- Thailand – Northern & Central: Asian Birding at its Best I 2019
- Thailand – Northern & Central: Asian Birding at its Best Exclusive 2019
- Thailand – Highlights 2019
- China – Winter Birding 2019
- Russia – Far East: Siberia’s Forgotten Coast 2019
- Russia – Far East: Across the Top of the World – Wrangel & Herald Islands 2019
- Russia – Jewel of the Russian Far East 2019