Taxonomy and systematics
It belongs to the calidrid sandpipers, but its placement inside this group is not resolved. While it is usually assigned to the monotypic genus Eurynorhynchus, its peculiar morphological adaptations and equivocal DNA sequence data preclude determination of closest relatives and evolutionary history at present.
The most distinctive feature of this species is its spatulate bill. The breeding adult bird is 14–16 cm in length, and has a red-brown head, neck and breast with dark brown streaks. It has blackish upperparts with buff and pale rufous fringing. Non-breeding adults lack the reddish colouration, but have pale brownish-grey upperparts with whitish fringing to the wing-coverts. The underparts are white and the legs are black.
The measurements are; wing 98–106 mm, bill 19–24 mm, bill tip breadth 10–12 mm, tarsus 19–22 mm and tail 37–39 mm.
The contact calls of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper include a quiet preep or a shrill wheer. The song, given during display, is an intermittent buzzing and descending trill preer-prr-prr. The display flight of the male includes brief hovers, circling and rapid diving while singing.
Distribution and habitat
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper's breeding habitat is sea coasts and adjacent hinterland on the Chukchi Peninsula and southwards along the isthmus of the Kamchatka peninsula It migrates down the Pacific coast through Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China, to its main wintering grounds in South and South-East Asia, where it has been recorded from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.
Its feeding style consists of a side-to-side movement of the bill as the bird walks forward with its head down. This species nests in June–July on coastal areas in the tundra, choosing locations with grass close to freshwater pools.
This bird is critically endangered, with a current population of fewer than 2500 – probably fewer than 1000 – mature individuals. The main threats to its survival are habitat loss on its breeding grounds and loss of tidal flats through its migratory and wintering range. The important staging area at Saemangeum, South Korea, has already been partially reclaimed, and the remaining wetlands are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future. A 2010 study suggests that hunting in Burma by traditional bird trappers is a primary cause of the decline.
Formerly classified as an Endangered species by the IUCN, recent research shows that its numbers are decreasing more and more rapidly and that it is on the verge of extinction. It is consequently reclassified to Critically Endangered status in 2008. The population was estimated at only 120-200 pairs in 2009-2010, perhaps indicating an 88% decline since 2002 equating to an annual rate of decline of 26%. Draining of the Saemangeum estuary in South Korea removed an important migration staging point, and hunting on the important wintering grounds in Burma has emerged as a serious threat. This species may become extinct in 10–20 years.
The BBC announced on November 14, 2011 that 13 spoon-billed sandpipers arrived to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire on November 11 to start a breeding program in an attempt to save the species. The birds hatched from eggs collected in north-eastern Russian tundra earlier and spent 60 days in Moscow Zoo in quarantine in preparation for the 8,000 km journey.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Eurynorhynchus pygmeus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/106003060. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- From Ancient Greek εὐρύνειν "to widen" + ῥύγχος "muzzle".
- Linnaeus, C (1758) (in Latin). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.. Stockholm: Laurentius Salvius. p. 140. "P. corpore supra fusco, subtus albo."
- Nilsson, S (1758). Ornithologica Suecica volume II (1). p. 29.
- Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A.; Székely, Tamás (2004). "A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny". BMC Evolutionary Biology 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28. PMC 515296. PMID 15329156. http://www.pubmedcentral.org/picrender.fcgi?artid=515296&blobtype=pdf.
- BirdLife International (BLI) (2008a) Spoon-billed Sandpiper Species Factsheet. Retrieved 24 May 2008.
- Hayman, Peter; Marchant, John & Prater, Tony (1986): Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 0-395-60237-8
- "Unique wader faces extinction". BirdLife International. http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2007/01/sbs_workshop.html. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
- Zöckler, C., Htin Hla, T., Clark, N., Syroechkovskiy, E., Yakushev, N., Daengphayon, S. & Robinson, R. (2010). "Hunting in Myanmar is probably the main cause of the decline of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmeus". Wader Study Group Bull. 117 (1): 1–8. http://www.shorebird-network.net/PDFs/Sbs-WSG-article.pdf.
- Sharma, Arunayan (2003). "First records of Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmeus in the Indian Sundarbans delta, West Bengal" (PDF). Forktail 19: 136–137. http://www.orientalbirdclub.org/publications/forktail/19pdfs/Sharma-SpoonbilledSand.pdf.
- BirdLife International (BLI) (2008b): [2008 IUCN Redlist status changes]. Retrieved 23 May 2008.
- Pitches, Adrian (August 2010). "Spoon-billed Sandpiper on a knife-edge". British Birds 103: 473–478. The hunting in Burma and extinction prediction reported in BB was based on Wader Study Group Bulletin 117 (2010)
- Gill, Victoria (14 November 2011). "Endangered spoon-billed sandpipers arrive in UK". BBC Nature. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/15692417. Retrieved 15 November 2011.