IMAGE: SANDPIPER CHICK
John O'sullivan  /  Royal Society for the Protection of Birds via AP
This spoon-billed sandpiper chick was photographed in Chukotka, Russia, in July 2005.
updated 10/12/2007 4:13:20 PM ET 2007-10-12T20:13:20

A rare bird that breeds in a remote Russian province is facing extinction, conservationists warned Friday, after a survey found that the numbers of the spoon-billed sandpiper had dropped dramatically.

Experts from the Britain-based conservation group BirdLife International blamed the decline of breeding pairs in Chukotka province on loss of key feeding sites during their migration from Russia to its wintering grounds in South Asia.

The bird is also fighting a losing battle at its Russian breeding grounds against foxes and dogs that eat the eggs, the group said.

"We've seen a 70 percent drop in the number of breeding pairs at some sites over the last couple of years," said Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, vice president of the Russian group. "If that continues, these amazing birds won't be around for much longer."

The World Conservation Union list the bird as endangered with only 200 to 300 pairs left in the wild.

Syroechkovskiy said Russian authorities need to do more to protect the birds, including boosting patrols where the birds nest. The wading birds are hard to miss, with their red head, speckled body and spoon-shaped bills.

"Once they are protected and the birds are successfully fledging young, we can get on with the task of trying to save areas that they use whilst on migration," Syroechkovskiy said.

But experts say it will be more challenging to protect key feeding sites along the bird's migration route, which takes it down the western Pacific coast through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan, to its main wintering grounds in South and Southeast Asia.

South Korea, for one, has come under fire for converting about half the country's 990,000 acres of tidal flats to farming and industry since 1960s. The Saemanguem wetlands — a muddy and sandy stretch of coastline alternately exposed and covered by tides — is popular with spoon-billed sandpipers and other migratory shorebirds, which spend months there fattening up for the long journey ahead.

Nial Moores, who heads Birds Korea, said only one spoon-billed sandpiper was recorded during a survey at Saemangeum this year compared to 180 in the 1990s. The tidal flat reclamation has coincided with a "massive decline of the species," Moores said in an e-mail interview.

The South Korean government insists the Saemangeum project will be "environmentally friendly" and predicts shore birds will move to other tidal flats along the Yellow Sea. It acknowledges, however, that the project could lead to a drop in shore birds at Saemanguem.

Christopher Zockler, international coordinator of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Action Plan, also said the birds face threats from expanding shrimp farms and salt pans in Bangladesh and coastal development in China.

"They are just running out of places to stop and feed on migration," Zockler said in a statement.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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