Mai Po offers shelter to Spoonbills in the winter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 February, 1993, 12:00am

SPOONBILLS are really strange birds. As their names suggest, their bills are flattened at the tips, making them look like white birds holding spatulas in their mouths.

They are close relatives to ibis, storks and herons but they have a peculiar feeding habit - dipping their bills in the water and swaying their heads sideways while wading. Whenever they feel prey (such as fish) in water, they will quickly grab and swallow it.

There are seven species of Spoonbills in the world, living in the warmer parts of all continents. Two species are found in Hongkong - the European Spoonbill and the Black-faced Spoonbill. The former is found in Europe and Asia while the latter is foundonly in eastern Asia.

Quite interestingly, the more numerous European Spoonbill is a rare winter visitor to Hongkong but the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill is not really hard to find at Mai Po in the winter. Each winter, about 20 to 40 birds stay at Mai Po and nearby areas. That is, believe it or not, almost one-sixth of the known world population! The Black-faced Spoonbill is known to breed in North Korea only, but it may also breed in some undiscovered locations in northern China and Russia. In the winter, they fly to Taiwan, Hongkong, Chang Jiang Basin and Vietnam.

Mai Po is not a big reserve, but it holds a substantial proportion of these birds and further justifies the conservation of this area.

If you are interested in Hongkong's wildlife, read Panda Post Club , a quarterly newsletter produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature. For more information, call 526-1011.