Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper No. 88 Returns to Taiwan

March 21, 2023
(For Immediate Release)

Issued by the Chiku and Jiangjun Salt Pan Wetlands Restoration Alliance

After two years, a critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, No. 88, reappeared in Tainan, Taiwan. The sighting took place last week during a coastal survey as part of the Ocean Conservation Administration's "2023 Seabird Population Survey Plan" carried out by the Forestry Wildlife Lab of National Taiwan University. No. 88 was spotted in the salt pan wetlands near Chiku and Jiangjun in northern Tainan City. It was also recorded in the winter of 2019 and 2020 at Jiangjun wetland, in an area very close to this year's sighting. There have been no records for the last two years, however due to the small numbers and difficulty in conducting tracking, it is uncertain if during that time there were any others here during that time. With this new record of No. 88, the loyalty of migratory birds to their preferred habitat is once more proven as is the importance of protecting this habitat of major international importance.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper No. 88 was released by in summer 2019 by researchers in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in Russian far East. Its leg flag is light green, with the number 88 printed in black and located on the left leg. In the winter of 2019, it wintered in Taiwan. Spoon-billed Sandpipers migrate along the Asian side of the Pacific coast every year, breeding in Northeast Asia and winter in South and Southeast Asia. In Taiwan there are records of its appearance in the transit period as well as occasional records of wintering.

Due to the continuous development of coastal habitats, human disturbance, climate change and other factors, the global population of Spoon-billed Sandpipers has been declining year by year. There were about 2,000-2,800 pairs of in 1970. This number dropped to 1,000 pairs in 2000, and then less than 400 pairs in 2005. According to studies done in 2014, it was then estimated that there were just 400 to 500 mature individuals left in the world, almost less than half the 2005 number. For this reason, it listed as Critical Endangered by the IUCN and attracted the attention of the global conservation community. Due to its extreme rarity, bird lovers from all over Taiwan will flock to the sighting area to try and see a"Spoonie" whenever one appears.

Taiwan's salt pan wetlands are located near coastlines or estuaries, tidal, and were originally used for the drying of salt. They are usually characterized by high salinity, lack of fresh water, and are often or occasionally irrigated by seawater. Many plants and animals in the salt pans have adapted to harsh conditions such as high salinity and low oxygen, forming special ecosystems. The soil in these areas are rich in salt and nutrients, and capable of supporting a wide variety of organisms, especially benthic organisms. This makes it an important habitat for many migratory bird species. Taiwan is located along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and is an extremely important rest stop and wintering site for many migratory waterbirds. As coastal wetlands in East Asian countries have been greatly reduced, the salt pans along Taiwan's southwestern coast play and important role in ecological conservation.

To protect the critical migratory bird habitat in Tainan, six organizations including the Taiwan Wild Bird Federation, the Wild Bird Society of Tainan, the Black-faced Spoonbill Conservation Association, Wetlands Taiwan, the Taiwan Environmental & Planning Association and The Society of Wilderness formed the Chiku and Jiangjun Salt Pan Wetlands Restoration Alliance. The group jointly adopted a total of 1,605 ha of state-owned salt pans from the National Property Administration in Tainan City's Chiku and Jiangjun. The alliance aims to regularly patrol and maintain the environment as well as monitor the local ecology. It is hoped that through these efforts, precious natural resources can be maintained, ecosystem diversity can be supported, and sustainable biodiversity protection can be achieved.

Lin Dai-rong, Director-General of the Wild Bird Society of Tainan, said that from 2017 to 2020, there were sightings of Spoon-billed Sandpipers in Tainan’s salt pans every year. However, this was the first time that the same Spoon-billed Sandpiper, No. 88, visited again after many years. This shows that migratory birds have specific preference when it comes to habitat and will remain site loyal as long as the environment remains healthy. However, the loss of such important habitats will make things even harder for these extremely threatened migratory birds. He also mentioned that in January alliance members surveyed the newly adopted land as part of the 2023 Taiwan New Year Bird Count, a citizen science driven project to understand the wintering avifauna of Taiwan. In total, nearly 20,000 birds were counted, including those both common and globally threatened. Lastly, he wanted to remind people that for those hoping to see No. 88, the roads in the salt pan wetlands area are mostly narrow with many with gravel-covered and potentially muddy. Visitors should observe road safety and not block roads while observing or photographing birds. We must take care of both the ecology and each other.


For more information, please contact:

Allen Lyu, Secretary-General of the Taiwan Wild Bird Federation, 0919-585-657
Lin Dai-rong, Director-General of the Wild Bird Society of Tainan, 06-2138310

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Photos Courtesy of Chang Han-po of the NTU Forestry Wildlife Lab