Conservationists warned Thursday that one of the rarest birds in the world was on the brink of extinction. The population of spoon-billed sandpiper decreased dramatically at a key breeding site in Russia.
Experts from the Britain-based conservation group BirdLife International blamed the decline of breeding pairs in the remote Russian province of Chukotka on loss of key feeding sites during their migration from Russia to its wintering grounds in South Asia.
The bird is also fighting a losing battle at its Russian breeding grounds against foxes and dogs that eat the eggs, the group said.
The World Conservation Union list the bird as endangered with only 200 to 300 pairs left in the wild. At one of the sites in Russia, the numbers have dropped from 22 pairs in 2002 to two this year, according to the Russian Bird Conservation Union.
"We've seen a 70 percent drop in the number of breeding pairs at some sites over the last couple of years," said Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, vice president of the Russian group. "If that continues, these amazing birds won't be around for much longer."
Syroechkovskiy said Russian authorities need to do more to protect the birds, including boosting patrols where the birds nest. The wading birds are hard to miss, with their red head, speckled body and spoon-shaped bills.
"Action to safeguard the remaining breeding pairs needs to be taken now for there to be any chance of saving them. We are planning to put wardens in place at these critical sites," Syroechkovskiy said. "Once they are protected and the birds are successfully fledging young, we can get on with the task of trying to save areas that they use whilst on migration."
Officials at Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources could not immediately comment on the declining numbers of spoon-billed sandpipers.
But experts said it will be more challenging to protect key feeding sites along the bird's migration route, which takes it down the western Pacific coast through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan, to its main wintering grounds in South and Southeast Asia.
South Korea, for one, has come under fire for converting about half the country's 988,400 acres (400,000 hectares) of tidal flats to farming and industry since 1960s. It finished the world's longest sea wall last year, which environmentalist fear will devastate the Saemangeum wetlands along the Yellow Sea. The wetlands has long been popular with spoon-billed sandpipers and other migratory shorebirds, which spent months there fattening up for the long journey ahead.
Christopher Zockler, international coordinator of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Action Plan, also said the birds face threats from expanding shrimp farms and salt pans in Bangladesh and coastal development in China.
"They are just running out of places to stop and feed on migration," Zockler said in a statement.