More spoonbills wintering at Mai Po

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2012, 12:00am


The big birds are making a comeback in Hong Kong.

The number of endangered black-faced spoonbills at the Mai Po Nature Reserve is up, reversing a five-year decline, with 332 spotted roosting in the area for the winter.

'The birds are responding positively to the restoration work we've done in the special spoonbill conservation zone,' said Bena Smith, who manages the reserve for WWF-Hong Kong, part of the global conservation body.

For the past five winters, fewer than 200 spoonbills have made Mai Po their home, partly because of the overgrown vegetation in the gei wai, or fish ponds, said Smith. 'The build-up of fine sediment at the bottom of the gei wai made them drier, gradually built up more vegetation and led to the loss of the open water the spoonbills like.'

The spoonbill is a migratory bird confined to East Asian coasts. About 80cm tall, it prefers to roost in open water less than 20cm deep and forage for fish and shrimp in the ponds.

The bird is on the Red List of globally endangered species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. However, it is a poster-child for success in conservation, with more than 400 birds seen wintering in the Deep Bay area and Shenzhen after hovering at a low of 50 in the late 1980s and early '90s.

'It shouldn't be this way in conservation, but the spoonbill is a charismatic creature that has many of the traits we like as humans. It's kind to other spoonbills and is a friendly bird,' said Smith.

The effort to save the species was given a further boost yesterday as birdwatchers took part in the WWF's annual Big Bird Race to record as many bird species as they could over 12 hours to raise HK$1.5 million for the reserve. The birdwatchers competed for awards for the most birds seen and rarest bird seen.

Half the money will be used to finish the HK$2 million restoration project started last year, and the rest will go to buy heavy machinery for the reserve.