China’s Key Threatened Migratory Bird Species
The destruction of wetland habitats is affecting bird populations—the Chinese Crested Tern is down to only 50. Click on the images to read their stories, and check out the journeys of two remarkable long-distance travelers.
Long Distance Travelers
Baer’s Pochard 青头潜鸭
Critically Endangered: Fewer than 1000 remaining
A diving duck, the Baer’s Pochard has a head that appears to have a dark green sheen in sunlight, and its white eyes contrast with its dark plumage. The Baer’s pochard is generally about 41-46 cm in length. According to numbers recorded on its breeding and wintering sites, the Baer’s Pochard is facing a very steep population decline, and its International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is Critically Endangered.
The current Baer’s Pochard population is estimated to be under 1,000 individuals, and the population of the mature Baer’s Pochard is approximately 150-700 individuals. Records indicate that the Baer’s Pochard no longer appears in many of its former breeding and wintering sites, and the species’ steep population decline is expected to continue.
Range & Migration
The Baer’s Pochard generally breeds in Northeastern China and the Ussuri and Amur basins in Russia. When the migratory season arrives, the Baer’s Pochard ventures South to its main wintering sites in Eastern and Southern China, as well as in India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Although the Baer’s Pochard is rarely found outside of these habitats, small numbers of the species have also been reported in Vietnam, Bhutan, North Korea, South Korea, Laos, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Nepal, Taiwan, and Thailand.
The threats faced by the Baer’s Pochard are not thoroughly understood, but its population decline can likely be attributed to hunting and habitat degradation. Hunting with the use of poisonous baits in areas such as Bangladesh poses a significant threat to the Baer’s Pochard population, as a single event alone causes severe damages. Decreasing water levels and dried up water bodies have also been linked to the Baer’s Pochard population decline, as proven by the Xianghai National Nature Reserve in China’s Northern Jilin province and Baiquan wetland in China’s Heilongjiang province.
Chinese Crested Tern 中华凤头燕鸥
Critically Endangered: Fewer than 50 remaining
Previously assumed to be an extinct species, the Chinese Crested Tern was rediscovered in 2000 when four adult individuals and four chicks were found on the Matsu Archipelago, off the East coast of China. Relatively large, the Chinese Crested Tern is typically about 43 cm in length and characterized by its crested tern with a black-tipped yellow bill. Due to its unusually small population, the Chinese Crested Tern’s International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is Critically Endangered. The species’ population continues to decline, and experts estimate that its current population is between 30-49 individuals.
Range & Migration
Because the Chinese Crested Tern’s population is very limited and poorly researched, the species’ migration patterns are not thoroughly known. However, in recent years, it has been reported that the Chinese Crested Tern has been breeding in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces in China. Outside of the breeding season, the species has been found in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
Based on records of several individuals using the Pachang River, Xisha Archipelago, and Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve, experts propose that the Chinese Crested Tern may winter around islands in the South China Sea.
Habitat degradation and egg collection are two of the most pivotal threats that endanger the Chinese Crested Tern. Similar to other waterbirds that rely on wetlands, the Chinese Crested Tern has been suffering from the effects of China’s efforts to stimulate its economy, as commercial, industrial, and agricultural developments have prompted the destruction of many wetlands that support this species. Seabirds are exploited in certain areas of China for food, and in places such as Zhejiang, the going rate for a seabird egg doubled between 2005 and 2007, leading more and more fishermen to enter the egg collecting trade. In addition to these threats, oil spills, predatory rats, natural disasters, over-fishing, and tourism further exacerbate the Chinese Crested Tern’s situation.
Hooded Crane 白头鹤
Vulnerable: Fewer than 10,000 remaining
One of the smallest cranes, the Hooded Crane has a dark grey body, as well as a white head and upper neck. The Hooded Crane’s most distinguishing feature is the bald, red crown that appears on adult individuals, with black bristles growing from it. Because the number of wintering sites for the Hooded Crane is limited to fewer than ten, and because most of these sites are experiencing population declines that are expected to continue, the Hooded Crane’s International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is categorized as Vulnerable. The Hooded Crane’s current population is estimated to be between 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.
Range & Migration
The Hooded Crane breeds primarily in southwestern and south-central Siberia, but the species is also thought to breed in Mongolia and in the region of Heilongjiang, China. During the migratory season, the Hooded Crane travels to its wintering sites in Japan, China, and South Korea. More than 80% of the population winters in Izumi of southern Japan, as an artificial feeding station funded by the Japanese government has existed since the 1950s. Of the estimated 1,050-1,150 birds wintering in China, approximately 300-400 travel to Poyang Lake.
Reclamation for development and dam construction are the two primary threats that have contributed to severe wetland degradation and loss at the Hooded Crane’s wintering sites in South Korea and China. Wetland drainage has destroyed many of the Hooded Crane’s habitats, and this situation has been further exacerbated by the conversion of paddy fields into cotton fields, especially in China. A proposed dam at the outlet of Poyang Lake poses a potential threat to one of the Hooded Crane’s wintering sites. More minor threats include pollution, over-fishing, hunting, and fires. In addition, the Hooded Crane population in Izumi, Japan, estimated to be approximately 8,000, is considered to be high-risk, as the concentrated presence of 80% of the species’ population in one place could be easily eliminated by disease.
Oriental Stork 东方白鹳
Endangered: Fewer than 2,500 remaining
Despite its resemblance to the European white stork, the Oriental Stork is distinguished by its whitish iris, black bill, and red skin around its eye. Typically about 110-150 cm tall, the Oriental Stork is a solitary bird except during the breeding season. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the species has an Endangered threat status because its already limited population has been declining rapidly, with no signs of slowing in the future. The current Oriental Stork population is estimated to be between 1,000-2,499 mature individuals.
Range & Migration
The Oriental Stork is known to breed primarily in the Amur and Ussuri basins along the border of mainland China and Russia. During the wintering season, the Oriental Stork travels to southern China and the lower Yangtze River basin, with unstable populations recorded at Poyang Lake. However, the Oriental Stork has also been spotted in parts of Bangladesh, India, North Korea, South Korea, Burma, Japan, and the Philippines during the wintering season. In addition, the Oriental Stork has been spotted as far as eastern Mongolia during the summer.
The Oriental Stork faces a variety of dangers, but agricultural development has been a particularly critical threat to the species’ survival. Wetland drainage, deforestation and land reclamation for agricultural purposes have collectively reduced the Oriental Stork’s habitat areas, disturbing the species’ ecosystems and eliminating certain food sources. In Russia, spring fires have destroyed many of the tall trees used for nesting by the Oriental Stork during the breeding season, thwarting the species’ reproductive success. In China, overfishing is a common problem that eliminates many of the Oriental Stork’s food sources. Throughout the Oriental Stork’s migratory routes, the species is also threatened by the hunting and collecting practices used in Russia and China to place the birds in zoos.
Siberian Crane 白鹤
Critically Endangered: Fewer than 4000 remaining
The world’s third rarest crane, the Siberian Crane travels the longest distances among all cranes. The Siberian Crane is typically about 140 cm tall, and is recognized for its relatively large size and nearly all-white appearance. The species has two regional populations, the Western/Central Asian population and the East Asian population. Based on the likelihood that the Siberian Crane population will decrease dramatically within the next three generations, especially because of the development of China’s Three Gorges Dam, the species’ International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is Critically Endangered.
The overall population of the Siberian Crane is estimated to be between 3,500-4,000 individuals, but the Western/Central Asian population is estimated to be just 10-20 individuals.
Range & Migration
The East Asian population breeds in northeastern Siberia, and winters at or near Jiangxi province’s Poyang Lake in Southern China, although it formerly wintered along the Yangtze River. The Western flock of the Western/Central Asian population breeds in the basin of the Konda and Alymka rivers, in the center of Western Siberia, Russia, and winters along the South coast of the Caspian Sea in Iran. However, the Central flock of the Western/Central Asian population breeds on the basin of the Kunovat river north of Western Siberia, Russia and winters in India.
While the degradation and loss of wetlands at wintering sites are primary threats posed against the East Asian population, hunting is a key threat that threatens the survival of the Western/Central population.
China’s efforts toward economic progress have prompted large-scale reclamation and destruction of its wetlands, as the country has continued to prioritize agricultural and industrial development, oil exploration, water development projects, and real estate projects. In addition to these factors, the presence of the Three Gorges Dam has led to considerable ecological imbalances and hydrological changes that have negatively impacted the East Asian population of the Siberian Crane. Altogether, these factors have diverted fresh water away from the wetlands to fuel human use of resources, consequently drying up many of the Siberian Crane’s wintering sites and rendering them uninhabitable.
Hunting on wintering and passage grounds is a particularly critical issue for the Western/Central Asian population, along with the presence of pesticide use and pollution in India.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper 勺嘴鹬
Critically Endangered: Fewer than 600 remaining
A small wader with a distinctive spatulate bill, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is generally 14-16 cm in length and found across parts of Asia and Russia. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status was upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered in 2004 and finally to Critically Endangered in 2008.
The current Spoon-billed Sandpiper population is estimated to be only 360-600 individuals, including the estimate of a mere 240-400 mature individuals. In recent years, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population has been declining by 26% annually. If this trend continues, experts claim that the species could become extinct in 5-10 years.
Range & Migration
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s breeding sites are generally limited to the seacoasts of north-Eastern Russia, from the Chukotsk Peninsula to the isthmus of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
During its migration period, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper sets out for its main wintering sites in distant Myanmar and Bangladesh, approximately 4,800 miles away. As the Spoon-billed Sandpiper makes its journey down the Western Pacific coast, it travels through Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. While these areas are the primary wintering grounds for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, these birds have also been spotted in parts of Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India during the wintering seasons.
Habitat degradation has played a major role in the Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s population decline. This has occurred mainly through pollution and land reclamation, as tidal flats along the species’ wintering and migratory routes have been eradicated for industrial and infrastructure purposes. Hunting is another key threat to the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, as widespread wader trapping in countries including China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh has thwarted growth in the breeding population.
Swan Goose 鸿雁
Vulnerable: Between 60,000-80,000 remaining
Distinguished by its bi-colored neck, dark brown on the back and light cream on the front, the Swan Goose also has a white band across its forehead. The Swan Goose makes a prolonged ‘honk’ alarm call, and is typically about 81-94 cm long. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the species has a Vulnerable threat status because it is experiencing rapid population decline and low reproductive success. Previously thought to be quite common, the Swan Goose species experienced considerable decline during the 19th century and early 20th century. The current Swan Goose population is estimated to be between 60,000-80,000 individuals.
Range & Migration
The breeding sites of the Swan Goose are located in Mongolia, northeast China, and eastern Russia. During the migratory season, the Swan Goose travels to its wintering sites in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, along the east Chinese coast and at Poyang Lake. However, in recent years, the Swan Goose’s wintering range has narrowed mainly to China, with a high concentration of the species flocking to Poyang Lake, as ecological disturbance from various sources impacts many of the species’ former wintering sites. These clusters of concentrated Swan Goose populations at fewer wintering sites endanger the species even further, since they become more vulnerable to disease, pollution, hunting, and other serious risks.
In Russia, drainage of breeding habitats and hunting have caused high Swan Goose mortality rates. In China and Mongolia, these same threats, coupled with the negative impacts of agricultural development on wetlands, have further contributed to the Swan Goose population decline. Agricultural development efforts in these areas have led to massive wetland destruction and pollution, consequently destroying many Swan Goose habitats and reducing feeding opportunities. As the notion that waterfowl is a useful food source begins to supplant traditional attitudes that discouraged waterfowl hunting, the Swan Goose has been put at greater risk for hunting, as well as egg collection, throughout China and Mongolia.
White-naped Crane 白枕鹤
Vulnerable: Fewer than 6,500 remaining
With slate-grey plumage, pinkish legs, a white neck, and eyes encircled by red skin, the White-naped Crane is a large bird that is typically about 125 cm in length. Because the White-naped Crane is currently undergoing a rapid population decline prompted by the loss of wetlands, the species’ International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat status is categorized as Vulnerable. The White-naped Crane’s current population is estimated to be between 5,500-6,500 individuals.
Range & Migration
The White-naped Crane’s breeding sites cover the Amur and Ussuri basins along the Sino-Russian border, the border between Russia, Mongolia, and China, as well as on the Songnen and Sanjiang plains in China. During the migratory season, the White-naped Crane travels along the Songnen Plain and the Gulf of Bohai to reach its wintering sites in the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea, southern Kyushu in Japan, and the Yangtze basin in China (mainly at Poyang Lake).
The population decline of the White-naped Crane has been caused by a variety of factors, but the main threats to the species’ survival stems from increasing human demand for water sources and from concerted agricultural expansion efforts. Agricultural development has not only contributed to the loss of overall wetland areas, but has also polluted the remaining wetland areas through the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Livestock grazing from agricultural efforts, as well as the prevalence of steppe fires, have further decreased the number of suitable habitats for the White-naped Crane. Although the Three Gorges Dam has already caused droughts and other ecological imbalances, further dam construction and other water development projects in China are expected to continue, and the planned construction of the Poyang Lake Dam is highly concerning for the survival of the White-naped Crane.
Bar-tailed Godwit 斑尾塍鹬
1.1-1.2 million remaining, but declining
A wader with blue-grey legs and a long, slightly upturned bill with a pink base, the Bar-tailed Godwit is known for its extreme endurance during its migration and the longest non-stop route among all birds.
The Amazing Journey
The Bar-tailed Godwit is the only bird known to fly more than 7,000 miles non-stop, without pausing for food, water or sleep. In 2007, a female Bar-tailed Godwit was measured to have flown a record-breaking 7,145 miles (11,500 kilometers) from Alaska to New Zealand within nine days during the autumn migration. On the return journey, the Bar-tailed Godwit also makes remarkably long journeys to wetlands in Asia.
How do they do it?
In order to prepare itself for the long flights, the Bar-tailed Godwit relies on large fat reserves (each Bar-tailed Godwit is about twice its normal body weight before taking off for the long flights). The Bar-tailed Godwit also shrinks its internal organs in order to reduce its weight. During flight, the Bar-tailed Godwit has been found to shut down one side of its brain at a time to save its energy, allowing it to control its fat reserves efficiently.
Bar-tailed godwits have a wide global distribution, different subspecies breeding in the tundras of Scandinavia, Russia and Alaska and visiting southern areas of Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Oceania. In the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the menzbieri subspecies breeds in northeast Asia, from the Taymyr Peninsular to Far East Siberia, and winters in Australia and Southeast Asia. The baueri subspecies breeds from north-eastern Asia to western Alaska and winters in Australia and New Zealand.
Although the status of the Bar-tailed Godwit on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) is Least Concern and the population is estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2 million individuals, the species faces a number of threats and its numbers are sharply declining.
Similar to many other birds, the Bar-tailed Godwit is threatened by habitat loss and degradation resulting from land reclamation, pollution, and reduced river flows. At some sites human disturbance is also a problem. In certain areas, rising sea levels and soil erosion have led to the invasion of mudflats and coastal saltmarshes by mangroves. The Bar-tailed Godwit population is also susceptible to infectious diseases, such as avian influenza.
Red Knot 红腹滨鹬
Over 1.1 million individuals, but declining
A medium-sized shorebird, the Red Knot is a long-distance traveler that travels 5,000 to 15,000 km twice a year during migration. The Red Knot stops along its migration route to rebuild protein stores and body fat.
The Amazing Journey
All six subspecies of the Red Knot breed on the northern tundras and winter at temperate or tropical coastal areas of North America, Europe and Africa and Oceania. Two subspecies breed in Eastern Siberia and migrate south via the Chinese and Korean coasts: the piersmai, spends the non-breeding season in north-west Australia and rogersi visits New Zealand.
How do they do it?
Prior to migration, the Red Knot doubles its body weight by accumulating fat. Similar to the Bar-tailed Godwit, the Red Knot can also reduce the size of its internal organs, but the Red Knot stops during its migration to feed. In addition, the Red Knot can also adjust the size of its gizzard, depending on the solidity of the animals they feed on, as the size of the gizzard increases for hard food items found at non-breeding sites and decreases for soft food items found at breeding sites.
The status of the Red Knot on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List is Least Concern because the species maintains a large range and population, but experts believe that its overall global population is declining. This decline is especially worrying for the rufa, piersmai and rogersi subspecies.
The increase in reclamation projects and over-exploitation of shellfish are the two primary threats the Red Knot faces. These primary threats contribute to habitat loss and a decrease in prey availability, complicating the species’ ability to stop at staging areas for rest and food sources. Other threats include oil exploration, industrial pollution, hunting, and avian influenza outbreaks.