Record number of rare spoonbills spotted this winter

Positive GROWTH::An international census showed that the endangered species’ population appears to be recovering and that Taiwan is their favorite winter habitat

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 - Page 3

The Chinese Wild Bird Federation yesterday said it recorded Taiwan’s highest number of black-faced spoonbills in 20 years this winter, with 1,628 of the rare birds spotted during the migration season.

The black-faced spoonbill, which is endemic to East Asia, was listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red list of Threatened Species as a critically endangered species before 2000 because of its very small population. Its status was upgraded to endangered in 2000.

Michael Lee (李建安), the deputy director of the federation’s department of conservation, said it is unclear whether this year’s record number of bird sightings was the result of people not noticing the species so much before. However, records from several decades ago showed that there were only about 200 to 300 black-faced spoonbills in the world.

Lee said the federation has participated in the International Black-Faced Spoonbill Census, coordinated by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, for several years. The census pools the data of surveys in different countries to estimate the total population of the species.

The data collection this year was done between Jan. 11 and Jan. 13, during the birds’ seasonal migration to their winter habitats, Lee said. He added that the federation had cooperated with 20 bird watching associations across the country to survey the Taiwanese spoonbill population, and found that the bird’s numbers had seen a 4 percent increase from the 1,562 birds recorded last year.

The 1,628 spoonbills found in Taiwan show that in the nation is the most important winter habitat for the species, housing about 60 percent of all black-faced spoonbills for the winter, the federation said.

“Of course we are happy to know that the number of black-faced spoonbills has increased this year, because that at least means that the environment of their winter habitat has not deteriorated,” Lee said. “However, we are still concerned that the increase of birds in Taiwan may be because their habitats in other countries have deteriotated.”

He said that data on the birds have been sent to the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society for analysis, adding that other research projects to find the black-faced spoonbill’s primary breeding grounds are also underway to help devise better conservation plans for the endangered animal.