Endangered bird returns in record numbers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 December, 2006, 12:00am

A record number of black-faced spoonbills, a globally endangered migratory bird, have returned to winter in Hong Kong this year.

Researchers counted 395 black-faced spoonbills on Tuesday at the Mai Po Nature Reserve, one of the world's most important wintering sites for the species.

The count represents more than one-fifth of the bird's global population, which, according to latest estimate, is 1,680.

Last year, the count was 340, and it was 305 in 2004, according to WWF Hong Kong, which manages the nature reserve.

Bena Smith, the group's reserve officer, yesterday attributed the high count partly to improved management of the 80-hectare special zone for spoonbills in the reserve.

'Within the zone, water levels are lowered gradually and bund vegetation cut to create a secure roosting area,' he said.

The reserve also operates traditional shrimp ponds with special water management to provide a continuous and sustainable food source during the birds' winter stay, Mr Smith added.

He also attributed it to the better protection schemes at the birds' breeding grounds and migration sites such as the wetland reserve in Fujian province and key wintering areas such as Chiku in southern Taiwan.

WWF assistant reserve officer Katherine Leung Kar-sin said the impact of a warmer climate in recent years on the migrating birds had been minimal but water pollution was a concern.

'If the water is polluted, the shrimps might be contaminated. And if the black-faced spoonbills eat the contaminated shrimps, this could give rise to problems in the long run,' said Ms Leung.

The endangered black-faced spoonbill spend their winters on coastal wetlands between South Korea and Thailand, mainly resting and feeding in preparation for the summer breeding season.

In Hong Kong, they are commonly found between late October and March. In past years, one or two birds stayed at the reserve into the summer. This year, 11 stayed.

Their wintering sites include the Macau wetlands between Taipa and Coloane and the wetland near Futian in Shenzhen.

Black-faced spoonbills breed on rocky islets, mainly along the west coast of the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, and a smaller number breed on islands lying off the coast of Liaoning province , in the mainland's northeast.