Stray dogs and pollution pose threat to spoonbills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2008, 12:00am

Stray dogs in the Mai Po Nature Reserve are posing a threat to the black-faced spoonbill, bird-watchers said yesterday.

They were commenting after the city reported a growth in the number of sightings, although the increase was not as high as in other areas in the region.

The dogs were among long-term habitat and environmental problems cited as a potential threat to the rare and endangered migratory birds.

The number of spoonbills spotted in a global census carried out in nine areas in East and Southeast Asia in January was 2,065, a 21.82 per cent increase compared with the 1,695 birds spotted in the same month last year.

Most of the increase was attributed to a rise in the number of sightings, between 18 and 30 per cent, on the mainland excluding Shenzhen, in Taiwan and in Japan. The study suggested that less poaching and an improving environment might be behind the increase.

But Hong Kong and Shenzhen - seen as the common habitat for the birds - reported only a 3.65 per cent rise in the number of birds spotted, from 356 to 369.

Hong Kong's and Shenzhen's share of the global population for the black-faced spoonbills has fallen this year to 18 per cent, compared with 21 per cent last year.

Most of the birds were spotted in the Deep Bay area.

Yu Yat-tung, of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and co-ordinator of the census, said the small increase in Hong Kong was 'a bit worrying' as it might indicate that Mai Po was getting overcrowded or that less food was available.

Apart from the long-term threat of worsening water pollution in Deep Bay and the drying up of the mudflats, Mr Yu said stray dogs were also a threat.

'We have frequently seen black-faced spoonbills taking shelter in the water, probably because they were being chased by dogs. We also found no birds in some of the ponds where we used to find them.'

He said there were at least five stray dogs in the reserve, which might make the birds feel threatened and hence force them to leave.

Mai Po reserve manager Lew Young agreed the stray dogs were a problem.

'We have seen the dogs chasing ducks. We haven't seen it happen to the spoonbills, but we can't rule this out,' Dr Young said.

Officers at the reserve had been catching stray dogs for years, he said.

Dr Young said the dogs were not the only threat to the spoonbills and that hooks and fishing lines in nearby fishponds were also a problem.

In January, a spoonbill nearly died after swallowing a fishing hook.

The past few months had seen 80,000 birds in Mai Po, a record high. This might be attributed to the cold snap on the mainland forcing more birds south, Dr Young said.

This is the 15th global census on spoonbills. The first was conducted in 1993, when just 351 black-faced spoonbills were spotted globally. Since then, more bird-watchers around the world have taken part in the study and more birds have been spotted.

Mr Yu said the increase in sightings did not mean the species was no longer endangered, because the birds were found in very few areas.

'Should there be any [environmental] disasters in Taiwan or Hong Kong, the bird population will be greatly affected,' he said.


More black-faced spoonbills have been spotted in Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Hong Kong's and Shenzhen's global share of the black-faced spoonbill population this year is: 18%