Bird news

Flappy's journeys end

Flappy: close up taken when the bird was fitted with a satellite tag

Flappy: close up taken when the bird was fitted with a satellite tag

On 17th May 2018, the last satellite transmission was received from Flappy – the Oriental Bird Club sponsored Common Cuckoo of the nominate subspecies – 100 km north of Mandaly and 30 km east of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. It seems certain Flappy perished sometime on the night of 14-15th May, during the return leg of her migration from wintering quarters in Mozambique to where she had spent the previous two summers, in northern Mongolia, close to the border with Russia.

The first cuckoo to be fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the Beijing Cuckoo Project in May 2016 in Beijing, China, during the two years before her demise, the bird crossed 61 international borders involving 16 countries: China, Mongolia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Oman, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia and DRC.

The insights into cuckoo migration have been profound: few predicted the cuckoos passing through China in spring would summer as far north, let alone winter in southern Africa. The truly remarkable journeys made by Flappy were followed by a large online audience and a number of high profile media articles. Her exploits helped link two great continents and thanks to OBC sponsorship, helped raise the profile of the Club too.

Full details of the remarkable travels of Flappy and the other cuckoos – which took in East Asia, parts of South-east Asia and South Asia, then across the Arabian Sea and along the coast of the Arabian peninsular and into the Horn of Africa, down through East Africa to southern Africa – can be found on the The Beijing Cuckoo Project website.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation and helping to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal was to discover the unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia. In 2017, there are plans to tag further birds to learn more about the remarkable migrations.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

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Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation and BirdLife International.

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Flappy flies home

Flappy: close up taken when the bird was fitted with a satellite tag

Flappy: close up taken when the bird was fitted with a satellite tag

On 3rd June 2017, Flappy - the Oriental Bird Club sponsored Common Cuckoo - completed the round trip back from Mozambique, where she wintered, to her summer home in Olon Balj Basin National Park in northern Mongolia. Remarkably, the latest satellite signals reveal she is within 2-3 km of where she spent summer 2016. Flappy is one of several cuckoos satellite tagged as part of the Beijing Cuckoo Project in May 2016 in Beijing, China.

Only two of the original five tagged cuckoos - Flappy and another bird, Meng - still have active transmissions - the tags either having failed or the birds carrying them perished. Both Flappy and Meng wintered in southern Africa having moved from their summering areas in Mongolia and China respectively. Flappy is a female of the nominate subspecies, while Meng is a male of the slightly smaller race bakeri.

Full details of the remarkable travels of these birds - which took in East Asia, parts of South-east Asia and South Asia, then across the Arabian Sea and along the coast of the Arabian peninsular and into the Horn of Africa, down through East Africa to southern Africa - can be found on the The Beijing Cuckoo Project website.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation and helping to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal was to discover the unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia. In 2017, there are plans to tag further birds to learn more about the remarkable migrations.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

BWRRC logo

BWRRC logo

(小)中国观鸟会logo

(小)中国观鸟会logo

master_logo_portrait

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Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation and BirdLife International.

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Helmeted Hornbill records sought

Bee Choo Strange of the Hornbill Research Foundation is on an urgent mission to collate all records of Helmeted Hornbills Rhinoplax vigil within the species's geographic range in preparation for a report to delegates attending the Helmeted Hornbill Conservation Strategy and Action Plan workshop in Sarawak, Malaysia, in May 2017.

The Helmeted Hornbill was uplisted in the IUCN Red List from from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered in 2015 owing to severe hunting pressure for its casque and habitat loss. Hunting pressure is expected to increase across the species's range and urgent conservation action is required.

The Indonesian government recently called upon the international community to help  prevent illegal trade in the species - in particular bill casques - during last year's meeting of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

The forthcoming Sarawak workshop will include NGO representatives from range countries and aims to develop a conservation Action Plan for the Helmeted Hornbill.

Phase I (March - May 2017) involves collating Helmeted Hornbill records from the literature, databases, museums and most importantly, recent and near-recent records from birdwatchers.

If you have records of Helmeted Hornbills - particularly recent sightings - please enter your data by visiting the following location and following the instructions there.

Please note any information provided will be used for research purposes only and will not be disclosed publicly.

Helmeted Hornbill  Rhinoplax vigil  © Muhammad Alzahri

Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil © Muhammad Alzahri

Three tagged cuckoos reach Africa

Routes from Asia to Africa followed by Flappy (red), Skybomb (gold) and Meng (blue).

Routes from Asia to Africa followed by Flappy (red), Skybomb (gold) and Meng (blue).

Flappy, the satellite-tagged Common Cuckoo sponsored by the Oriental Bird Club is currently in southern Mozambique, having crossed around 20 international borders on her migration south.

Flappy's journey south, and that of two other satellite-tagged cuckoos, Meng and Skybomb, is shown in the map above.

All three have moved from their breeding grounds in Asia to south-east Africa. Flappy is currently the furthest south, close to the Zimbabwe border in Mozambique, while Skybomb was last reported a few weeks ago just north of Flappy, also in Mozambique. The lack of a recent signal from Skybomb could be because of tag failure, if the bird is inhabiting dense forest where a signal is not possible, or because the bird has perished. Researchers will be keenly awaiting further signals. Meanwhile, further to the north is Meng, the only male of the trio and a different subspecies (bakeri) to the two tagged female canorus. This individual migrated somewhat later than the other two birds and is some way behind in southern Tanzania.

Regular and social media, particularly in China, have carried numerous articles about the travels of the birds, reaching potentially hundreds of thousands if not millions of readers, and all helping raise awareness of the remarkable migrations undertaken by some Asian species.

Birding Beijing reports that “Cuihu Urban Wetland Park in Beijing, the location where Flappy was tagged, is planning to erect an information board about cuckoos for the general public. It will include what we know about the life-cycle and migration and, all being well, will include a map showing the migration route of Flappy.”

The Beijing Cuckoo Project aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation and helping to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal was to discover the unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

BWRRC logo

BWRRC logo

(小)中国观鸟会logo

(小)中国观鸟会logo

master_logo_portrait

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Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation and BirdLife International.

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Flappy currently in northern India

Flappy, the satellite-tagged Common Cuckoo sponsored by the Oriental Bird Club has been making astonishing progress on her autumn migration and is currently in northern India, having crossed several international borders on her migration south.

Since the last update here on 15th July she crossed the Mongolian desert, arriving in Hebei Province, southwest of Beijing, on 1st August, where she stayed for a few weeks. Next stop ruled out Southeast Asia as a wintering destination, as she travelled an incredible 2,400 km southwest into Myanmar, arriving there on 1st September.

Not for long, however, and speculations that she may stay in Myanmar were soon overturned, as only two days later her transmitter was picked up by satellites showing her to be in India, just north of the border with Bangladesh, in the state of Meghalaya. Pushing on in a west/northwesterly direction for 800 km, by 5th September Flappy had passed through the northernmost part of Bangladesh and arrived 120 km southwest of Kathmandu on the India/Nepal border.

Birding Beijing received an email from an excited follower at the Wildlife Institute of India, who noted that Flappy's route is similar to that taken by Amur Falcons, and speculating she may fly across India and migrate to Southern Africa taken an oceanic crossing like the Amurs.

Flappy has since carried on travelling northwest into Nepal and skirted the foothills of the Himalayas.

On the latest update she appeared to have changed tack from the consistent bearing of 290 degrees she had followed for the 1,700 km since Myanmar, and on 12th September was 200 km east of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh.

Birding Beijing also reports that "Cuihu Urban Wetland Park in Beijing, the location where Flappy was tagged, is planning to erect an information board about cuckoos for the general public.  It will include what we know about the life-cycle and migration and, all being well, will include a map showing the migration route of Flappy."

The Beijing Cuckoo Project aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation and helping to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal will be to discover the presently unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper wintering site under threat

Spoon-billed Sandpiper © Richard Thomas/TRAFFIC

Spoon-billed Sandpiper © Richard Thomas/TRAFFIC

Khok Kham, one of only two regular wintering sites in Thailand for the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other wader species of the East Asian-Australasian flyway is under threat from a solar farm development.

A number of Thai organizations and individuals are campaigning against the development. The Oriental Bird Club is offering our support to their efforts.

More information about the nature of the threat can be found in this article on the Birdguides website.

Flappy goes cuckoo and leads a merry dance

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There was exciting news earlier this week when Flappy – or Flappy McFlapperson to give her full name: the female Cuckoo sponsored by the Oriental Bird Club through the Beijing Cuckoo Project—apparently began her southward migration. Speculation was rife as to whether she would head towards Africa or South Asia. However, as the maps below demonstrate, she is not about to give her secret away just yet.

By 15th July, Flappy was back in China, having been tracked to the edge of the Gobi Desert, and it appeared as if she was retracing her route from her tagging location in Beijing.

Things looked to be quite normal, but then her latest position revealed she had headed north once more to a location in Mongolia to the southeast of where she had started, thus completing three sides of a parallelogram!

Although the behaviour might appear extraordinary, such return movements of southbound migrants are not unknown, according to the BTO’s Dr Chris Hewson, who manages the project.

According to Hewson, migrant birds are sometimes even known to return to where they began their autumn migration.

In this instance, it is possible that on encountering harsh conditions on the edge of the Gobi Desert, Flappy turned back north to where she knew there was favourable habitat and a food source.

The next few days are keenly awaited to see where Flappy will make her next move.

Meanwhile, the other four cuckoos fitted with transmitters through the Beijing Cuckoo Project are all still on their breeding grounds.

All five of the birds were trapped in the Beijing area where local schoolchildren chose names for them and encouraged to follow their movements online as they move first to their breeding grounds then in the autumn to their as yet unknown wintering grounds.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation and helping to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal will be to discover the presently unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation.

Flappy makes a flying start

Flappy at the start of her tagged journey.

An exciting new project is currently underway to find the wintering grounds of East Asia's Common Cuckoos.

Through the Beijing Cuckoo Project, satellite transmitters have been placed on five Common Cuckoos in order to track their international movements.

The birds were all trapped in the Beijing area where local schoolchildren have chosen names for them and encouraged to follow their movements online as they move first to their breeding grounds then in the autumn to their as yet unknown wintering grounds.

The Oriental Bird Club has sponsored a transmitter on one of the cuckoos, which the pupils at Dulwich International School, Beijing, chose to name Flappy McFlapperson.

The project follows a hugely successful study on Common Cuckoos breeding in the United Kingdom that for several years has tracked the birds' movements between Europe and their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

That project attracted huge interest, both from the scientific community and from those with an interest in the natural environment.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project similarly aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation, and help to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal will be to discover the presently unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia.

Speculation is rife about whether the birds will head for: Southeast Asia or, like their European cousins, sub-Saharan Africa.

Flappy, which is probably of the race canorus (blood analysis should confirm), has already provided some interesting insights into Common Cuckoo migration in the region. Following her fitting with a transmitter at Cuihu Urban Wetland Park, she first headed east then  NNW and is currently on the border of Mongolia and Russia. The route taken suggests she flew in an arc around the Mongolian Plateau.

Remarkably a second female cuckoo, tagged 161315, followed almost precisely the same route and at one point the two were within 50 km of one another in the Hentiyn Mountains. However, female 161315  carried on even further north and is now around 200 km east of Lake Baikal.

By contrast the three tagged male cuckoos, probably of the race bakeri, have all remained in the Beijing area.

You can keep up-to-date with all the latest developments through the Beijing Cuckoo Project pages on the Birding Beijing website, which includes further migration maps.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation.

Trade wiping out Indonesia’s bird species

Indonesia’s national bird – the Javan Hawk-eagle – is one of those most at risk  © Chris R Shepherd / TRAFFIC

Indonesia’s national bird – the Javan Hawk-eagle – is one of those most at risk © Chris R Shepherd / TRAFFIC

Jakarta, Indonesia, 26th May 2016 — A new study published in the latest issue of Forktail, the journal of the Oriental Bird Club, has revealed that 13 bird species—including Indonesia’s national bird, the Javan Hawk-eagle—found in Sundaic Indonesia are at serious risk of extinction because of excessive over-harvesting.

The study, Trade-driven extinctions and near-extinctions of avian taxa in Sundaic Indonesia, also finds that an additional 14 bird subspecies are in danger of extinction. The driver behind this crisis is the enormous demand for birds for the domestic pet trade.

The keeping of birds as pets in Indonesia is an integral part of the national culture, yet the high levels of demand for some species have fuelled excessive hunting with the populations of many rapidly disappearing.

Besides the Javan Hawk-eagle, the other full species at risk include the Silvery Woodpigeon, Helmeted Hornbill, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet, Javan Green Magpie, Black-winged Myna, Bali Myna, Straw-headed Bulbul, Javan White-eye, Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush, Sumatran Laughingthrush and Java Sparrow.

Although most of them are kept as pets, the Helmeted Hornbill is an exception: as TRAFFIC recently revealed, thousands are being illegally killed and traded for their unique solid bill casques, carved as a substitute for elephant ivory, to meet demand in China.

Another of them, the Javan Green Magpie, was recognized as a full species as recently as 2013—and simultaneously documented as in grave danger of extinction owing to trade pressure. In direct response, the Threatened Asian Songbird Alliance (TASA), operating as a formal body of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), initiated a programme of captive breeding in a number of zoos, as assurance colonies, for security and propagation purposes.

Such conservation breeding is the last hope for some of the taxa affected. According to the study: “Regrettably five subspecies…are probably already extinct, at least in the wild, due primarily to trade.” They include one subspecies of a parrot (Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet), three subspecies of White-rumped Shama, an accomplished songster and one of the Hill Myna, popular because of its ability to mimic human voices.

“Whether its species or subspecies, the message is the same: excessive trade is wiping out Indonesia’s wild bird species at an alarming rate” said Dr Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Director for Southeast Asia, and a co-author of the study.

“Despite the alarming scale and consequences of the bird trade, governments and even conservation organizations often don't view this issue as a high priority. This hampers efforts to prevent further losses.”

The solutions to the bird trade crisis in Indonesia lie in a combination of better law enforcement, public awareness campaigns, in situ management, conservation breeding, conversion of trappers to wardens and field, market and genetic surveys, say the study’s authors.

Meanwhile as certain favoured species disappear because of trapping, others are targeted as “next-best” substitutes, while commercial breeders sometimes hybridise taxa for “better” effects, leading to further conservation complexities.

The study’s authors also consider whether commercial breeding could help alleviate the situation, but conclude that “while attractive in theory, [commercial breeding] presents difficulties that are probably insurmountable in practice.”

Conservation breeding is the focus for efforts to save the Javan Green-magpie  © Chester Zoo

Conservation breeding is the focus for efforts to save the Javan Green-magpie © Chester Zoo

Volunteers sought to survey Yellow-breasted Buntings in Mongolia

Male Yellow-breasted Bunting  © G. Amarkhuu

Male Yellow-breasted Bunting © G. Amarkhuu

Populations of Yellow-breasted Bunting, Emberiza aureola, are rapidly declining across their range and the species has recently been classified as Endangered by IUCN. They were once common in the northern Palearctic from Finland and Belarus, eastwards to north-east Asia. Mainly due to excessive hunting in China and several other reasons, the species has declined across its range and become quite rare. However, ecological aspects of the decline remain unclear.

It is vital to understand the breeding ecology and migratory behaviour of this species to help identifying conservation actions in future. During the breeding season in June 2016, we want to find and identify locations suitable for deploying geo-locators next year and establishing a long-term population study and monitoring for this species.

We are looking for volunteers who can help us to find breeding localities of Yellow-breasted Bunting in north-eastern Mongolia. However, due to lack of funding and urgency of the issue, Mongolian biologists cannot do this on their own.

We seek volunteers who are able and willing to pay for costs related to their travel and participation in field surveys in Mongolia in the first half of June 2016. We can help arrange the logistical support you will need while you are in Mongolia. The field survey will last 2-3 weeks in June, and we would appreciate volunteers willing to contribute their time and resources during this period.

If you are interested, please contact:

Mr. Batmunkh Davaasuren at Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia, batmunkh@wscc.org.mn, or

Mr. Alex Ngari at BirdLife International, Alex.Ngari@birdlife.org

Mixed news for Asia's vultures

Slender-billed Vultures, Assam (c) James Eaton / Birdtour Asia

Slender-billed Vultures, Assam (c) James Eaton / Birdtour Asia

The latest issue of the IUCN's Vulture Specialist Group newsletter (PDF, 200KB) has been published. Covering vulture news from around the world, the newsletter includes mixed news from Asia where, on the positive side, there is a growing prospect of the first releases back to the wild of Critically Endangered vulture species in Nepal and India.

Offset against this, however, are ongoing concerns over the continuing use of the vulture-killing drug diclofenac and derivatives thereof: one Indian pharmaceutical company is challenging in court the latest ban on multi-dose vials of the human formulations. Meanwhile a paper demonstrating that aceclofenac (a pro-drug to diclofenac) is indeed metabolised directly to diclofenac in cattle has been published this month, highlighting the urgent need for a veterinary ban.

Illegal cage bird trade threatens Black-winged Myna

Illegal trade is pushing the Critically Endangered Black-winged Myna towards extinction © Khaleb Yordan

Illegal trade is pushing the Critically Endangered Black-winged Myna towards extinction © Khaleb Yordan

Jakarta, Indonesia, 13th August—So rare that captive breeding centres have been robbed, the soaring prices and drop in availability of Black-winged Mynas in trade point to a species on the brink.

Black-winged Mynas are prized in the cage bird trade for their striking black and white plumage, lively behaviour and singing ability; today their extreme rarity in the wild adds to their desirability.

The species is native only to the islands of Java and Bali and is protected under Indonesian law. Despite this, illegal capture in the wild continues, while trade is carried out openly in Indonesia’s notorious bird markets.

Surveys by TRAFFIC and Oxford Brookes University researchers between 2010 and 2014 found significantly fewer Black-winged Mynas available in the three largest bird markets in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta: down by three-quarters since the 1990s. This coincides with a more than ten-fold increase in asking prices and the near complete decimation of the species in the wild.

The crisis facing the Black-winged Myna and other Asian songbirds is scheduled to come under expert scrutiny next month at the inaugural Asian Songbird Crisis Summit, taking place on 26-29th September 2015 in Singapore.

Just a few hundred individuals of the once common Black-winged Myna remain in the wild and the species is currently assessed as Critically Endangered by IUCN.

The birds are now so valuable that a captive breeding centre, where birds were being reared for conservation purposes, suffered a double robbery in June 2014, and almost the entire breeding stock, more than 150 birds were stolen.

While the bulk of trade in Black-winged Mynas appears to supply domestic demand, there is also an unknown level of international trade.

The authors of the latest study, published in Bird Conservation International, recommend that Indonesia lists the species in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“An Appendix III-listing is essentially a call for support by a country to assess the international trade in a species,” explained Vincent Nijman, Professor at Oxford Brookes University.

“That information would be essential for devising an action plan to save the species,” he added.

There is an unkown level of international trade in Black-winged Mynas © James Eaton / BirdtourAsiaThe demise of the Black-winged Myna is an eerie reminder of the fate of its close relative, the Bali Myna. The two are similar in appearance, and indeed the trade in Black-winged Mynas partly arose as a replacement species for the increasingly rare and expensive Bali Myna.

Commercial captive breeding is unlikely to remove pressure from remaining wild populations of Black-winged Mynas as long as enforcement efforts to prohibit the poaching and trade of the birds are absent or inefficient.

“TRAFFIC is extremely concerned over the increasing threat of extinction from trade to the Black-winged Myna”, said Dr Chris Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

The open and widespread illegal trade in birds in Indonesia, is pushing these mynas and many other species down a dangerous path.

“Indonesian authorities should demonstrate willingness to uphold their own national wildlife laws. It is high time for uncompromising and swift action against the illegal trade in the notorious bird markets,” said Shepherd.

Illegal trade pushing the Critically Endangered Black-winged Myna Acridotheres melanopterus towards imminent extinction (PDF, 218 KB) by Chris R. Shepherd, Vincent Nijman, Kanitha Krishnasamy, James A. Eaton and Serene C. L. Chng is published in the journal Bird Conservation International.

Superabundant bird decline mirrors Passenger Pigeon

Yellow-breasted Bunting male on the breeding grounds © Ulrich Schuster / Amur Bird Project

Yellow-breasted Bunting male on the breeding grounds © Ulrich Schuster / Amur Bird Project

One of the Eurasia’s most abundant bird species has declined by 90% and retracted its range by 5000km since 1980 a new study shows.

Yellow-breasted Bunting was once distributed over vast areas of Europe and Asia, its range stretching from Finland to Japan.

New research published in the journal Conservation Biology suggest that unsustainable rates of hunting principally in China have contributed to a catastrophic loss of numbers and also in the areas in which it can now be found.

“The magnitude and speed of the decline is unprecedented among birds distributed over such a large area, with the exception of the Passenger Pigeon, which went extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting”, said Dr Johannes Kamp from the University of Münster, the lead author of the paper.

High levels of hunting also appear to be responsible for the declines in Yellow-breasted Bunting.

"A Century on from America's folly and Asia is blindly following suit, allowing a once superabundant bird to spiral into oblivion," said Richard Thomas, OBC Council Member.

The species has all but disappeared from Eastern Europe, European Russia, large parts of Western and Central Siberia, and Japan.

"Once Yellow-breasted Buntings were too numerous to count, today you can count on them nowhere being numerous," said Thomas.

In 2004, Yellow-breasted Bunting was the first species featured as A Bird to Watch in the OBC's journal BirdingASIA, where concern was expressed over the rapid levels of decline.

During migration and on the wintering grounds, Yellow-breasted Buntings gather in huge flocks at night-time roosts making them easy to trap in large numbers. Birds have traditionally been trapped for food at these roosts with nets.

Following initial declines, hunting of the species – known in Chinese as ‘the rice bird’ – was banned in China in 1997. However, millions of Yellow-breasted Buntings and other songbirds were still being killed for food and sold on the black market as late as 2013. Consumption of these birds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in East Asia, with one estimate from 2001 of one million buntings being consumed in China’s Guangdong province alone.

“To reverse these declines we need to better educate people of the consequences of eating wildlife. We also need a better and more efficient reporting system for law enforcement”, said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer at BirdLife International.

“The story of the Yellow-breasted Bunting illustrates how little we know about trends in populations in many species in the region. There is growing evidence that these declines are part of wider problems for common Asian birds. We need to better understand these in order to address them more effectively.“

Coordinated monitoring activities are urgently needed in East Asia. However, a new agreement between China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Russia is a first step in developing a coordinated monitoring of migratory birds across the region. The situation is now so serious that the Convention on Migratory Species has agreed to develop an international action plan for the recovery of the Yellow-breasted Bunting throughout its range by 2017.

“In the last decade birdwatching has become increasingly popular in China. Birdwatchers will play an important role in future data gathering”, said Simba Chan. “Now is the time to address these worrying declines across the region by mobilising people for conservation action.”

The latest study is published in Conservation Biology: Kamp et al. (2015) Global population collapse in a superabundant migratory bird and illegal trapping in China

Yellow-breasted Buntings are trapped in huge numbers to be sold as snacks © Huang Qiusheng

Yellow-breasted Buntings are trapped in huge numbers to be sold as snacks © Huang Qiusheng

Jerdon’s Babbler rediscovered in Myanmar

Jerdon’s Babbler, rediscovered in Myanmar in May 2014 © Robert Tizard / WCS

Jerdon’s Babbler, rediscovered in Myanmar in May 2014 © Robert Tizard / WCS

5th March 2015—Jerdon’s Babbler Chrysomma altirostre has been rediscovered in Myanmar by a scientific team from WCS, Myanmar’s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division – MOECAF, and National University of Singapore (NUS).

Jerdon’s Babbler had last been seen in Myanmar in July 1941 and was considered by many to be extinct in the country.

News of the exciting rediscovery has been unveiled in the latest issue of BirdingASIA, the six-monthly journal of the Oriental Bird Club.

The printed article will be distributed to Club members, while an electronic version can be downloaded here: BirdingAsia22 pp13-15 (PDF, 50 KB)

The team rediscovered Jerdon’s Babbler on 30th May 2014 while surveying grasslands near the town of Myitkyo, Bago Region near the Sittaung River, close to an abandoned agricultural station.

After hearing a distinctive call, scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon’s Babbler.

During the next two days, the team repeatedly found Jerdon’s Babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and mistnetted individuals to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs.

The small brown bird, about the size of a House Sparrow Passer domesticus, was initially described by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon in January 1862, who found it in grassy plains near Thayetmyo, Myanmar.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around Yangon. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed.

“The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s Babbler extinct. This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them,” said Colin Poole, Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore.

Jerdon’s Babblers in Myanmar are currently considered as one of three subspecies found in the Indus, Bhramaputra, and Ayeyarwady River basins in South Asia. All show subtle differences and may yet prove to be distinctive species.

Further analysis of DNA samples taken from the bird will be studied at the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, to determine if Jerdon’s babbler in Myanmar should be considered a full species. If so, the species would be exclusive to Myanmar and be of very high conservation concern because of its fragmented and threatened habitat.

“Our sound recordings indicate that there may be pronounced bioacoustic differences between the Myanmar subspecies and those further west, and genetic data may well confirm the distinctness of the Myanmar population,” said Professor Frank Rheindt of NUS’s Department of Biological Sciences and a key member of the field team and leader of the genetic analysis.

This work was carried out as part of a larger study to understand the genetics of Myanmar bird species and determine the true level of bird diversity found in the country. Already Myanmar has more species of bird than any other country in mainland Southeast Asia and this number is likely to increase as our understanding of birds in this long isolated country continues to grow.

WCS’s work in Myanmar which led to this discovery was supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Oriental Bird Club, UK registered charity 297242, is for birders and ornithologists around the world who are interested in birds of the Oriental region and their conservation. The Club's aims are to encourage an interest in wild birds of the Oriental region and their conservation, to promote the work of regional bird and nature societies and to collate and publish information on Oriental birds. The Club is run by a team of dedicated volunteers.

Jerdon’s Babbler, Myanmar © Robert Tizard / WCS

Jerdon’s Babbler, Myanmar © Robert Tizard / WCS

Asian ibis on the Edge

Giant Ibis (c) James Eaton / BirdtourAsia

Giant Ibis (c) James Eaton / BirdtourAsia

An assessment by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Yale University of bird species worldwide has helped produce a list of the top 100 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) species.

Top of the list is the rare and striking Giant Ibis, which today can most easily be found in northern Cambodia. Approximately 230 pairs remain in the wild, many of them protected by local campaigns run through the Sam Veasna Centre and BirdLife Cambodia. Chief threats to the ibis are habitat loss, human disturbance and hunting.

New bird family from the eastern Himalayas

The Spotted Elachura  Elachura formosa , newly elevated to single-family status. (c) James Eaton / BirdtourASIA

The Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa, newly elevated to single-family status. (c) James Eaton / BirdtourASIA

DNA molecular analysis has revealed that the Spotted Wren-babbler is a unique species, unrelated to wren-babblers and is best placed in its own family, the Elachuridae.

Henceforth the species will be called the Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa.

The discovery, by Professor Per Alström and co-workers, is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Molecular analysis of passerine families identified 10 separate evolutionary branches, one of which was unique to the Spotted Elachura, the only living representative of one of the earliest off-shoots within the passeriformes

The Spotted Elachura is extremely secretive and difficult to observe, usually staying hidden within dense tangled undergrowth in subtropical mountain forests.

The male’s high-pitched song doesn’t resemble any other continental Asian bird song. The close resemblance in appearance to wren-babbler species is thought due either to pure chance or convergent evolution.

Hiding in plain sight: Cambodian Tailorbird discovered within city limits of Phnom Penh

New Species: the previously undescribed Cambodian Tailorbird has been found in Cambodia’s urbanized capital Phnom Penh Photo (c) James Eaton / Birdtour Asia

New Species: the previously undescribed Cambodian Tailorbird has been found in Cambodia’s urbanized capital Phnom Penh Photo (c) James Eaton / Birdtour Asia

A team of scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society, BirdLife International, and other groups have discovered a new species of bird with distinct plumage and a loud call living not in some remote jungle, but in a capital city of 1.5 million people.

Called the Cambodian Tailorbird Orthotomus chaktomuk, the previously undescribed species was found in Cambodia’s urbanized capital Phnom Penh and several other locations just outside of the city including a construction site. It is one of only two bird species found solely in Cambodia. The other, the Cambodian Laughingthrush, is restricted to the remote Cardamom Mountains.

Scientists describe the new bird in a special online early-view issue of the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail.

A new species of lowland tailorbird (Passeriformes: Cisticolidae: Orthotomus) from the Mekong floodplain of Cambodia (Forktail29: 1-14) (PDF, 670 KB)

Authors include: Simon Mahood, Ashish John, Hong Chamnan, and Colin Poole of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Jonathan Eames of BirdLife International; Carl Oliveros and Robert Moyle of University of Kansas; Fred Sheldon of Louisiana State University; and Howie Nielsen of the Sam Veasna Centre.

The small grey bird with a rufous cap and black throat lives in dense, humid lowland scrub in Phnom Penh and other sites in the floodplain. Its scientific name ‘chaktomuk’ is an old Khmer word meaning four-faces, perfectly describing where the bird is found: the area centered in Phnom Penh where the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers come together.

Only tiny fragments of floodplain scrub remain in Phnom Penh, but larger areas persist just outside the city limits where the Cambodian Tailorbird is abundant. The authors say that the bird’s habitat is declining and recommend that the species is classified as Near Threatened under the IUCN’s Red List. Agricultural and urban expansion could further affect the bird and its habitat. However, the bird occurs in Baray Bengal Florican Conservation Area, where WCS is working with local communities and the Forestry Administration to protect the Bengal Florican and other threatened birds.

This same dense habitat is what kept the bird hidden for so long. Lead author Simon Mahood of WCS began investigating the new species when co-author Ashish John, also of WCS, took photographs of what was first thought to be a similar, coastal species of tailorbird at a construction site on the edge of Phnom Penh. The bird in the photographs initially defied identification. Further investigation revealed that it was an entirely unknown species.

“The modern discovery of an un-described bird species within the limits of a large populous city – not to mention 30 minutes from my home – is extraordinary,” said Mahood.  “The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations.”

The last two decades have seen a sharp increase in the number of new bird species emerging from Indochina, mostly due to exploration of remote areas.  Newly described birds include various babbler species from isolated mountains in Vietnam, the bizarre Bare-faced Bulbul from Lao PDR and the Mekong Wagtail, first described in 2001 by WCS and other partners.

Colin Poole, Director of WCS Singapore and a co-author of the Forktail study said, “This discovery is one of several from Indochina in recent years, underscoring the region’s global importance for bird conservation.”

Co-Author Jonathan C. Eames of BirdLife International said: “Most newly discovered bird species in recent years have proved to be threatened with extinction or of conservation concern, highlighting the crisis facing the planet’s biodiversity.”

Steve Zack, WCS Coordinator of Bird Conservation, said, “Asia contains a spectacular concentration of bird life, but is also under sharply increasing threats ranging from large scale development projects to illegal hunting.  Further work is needed to better understand the distribution and ecology of this exciting newly described species to determine its conservation needs.”

Two new sites for Jankowski’s Bunting discovered

Jankowski’s (Rufous-backed) Bunting, photographed at one of the newly discovered grassland sites. Photo (c) Terry Townshend

Jankowski’s (Rufous-backed) Bunting, photographed at one of the newly discovered grassland sites. Photo (c) Terry Townshend

A survey in Inner Mongolia and Jilin Province, China, by a team from the Beijing Birdwatching Society in May 2013 has discovered two new sites for Jankowski’s Bunting, an Endangered species, holding at least 12 birds, plus more than 30 individuals were found at a single established site.

Terry Townshend, a British birdwatcher living in Beijing accompanied the team and talks about the discovery in his blog.

Sonadia Island declared IBA

Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, a wintering site for Spoon-billed Sandpipers, has been recognised by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Photo: © Richard Thomas

Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, a wintering site for Spoon-billed Sandpipers, has been recognised by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Photo: © Richard Thomas

Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, where 10% of the known population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus spends the winter, has been recognised as Bangladesh’s 20th Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.

“A series of recent surveys confirms that Bangladesh is still an extremely important wintering ground for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and we identified Sonadia Island as the main wintering site in Bangladesh”, said Sayam U. Chowdhury, Principal Investigator of the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project, a group of young conservationists who monitor the wader population, and work with local communities to raise awareness and reduce threats.

Sonadia Island also supports the globally Endangered Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer, and other threatened and Near Threatened birds such as Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus, Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa.

BirdLife Partners and others involved in the “Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper” project have been working at Sonadia since 2009, when hunting of waders on the mudflats was identified as a major threat to the fast-diminishing Spoon-billed Sandpiper population. Local hunters have now been trained and equipped for alternative, more secure and sustainable livelihoods. A very successful campaign has led to a better understanding of the importance of shorebird conservation in general, and a sense of pride and custodianship towards the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in particular.

”The work has gone extremely well, and we are trying to really deliver conservation through the local communities,” said Sayam Chowdhury.  “Through the provision of alternative livelihoods we have seen hunting reduced to almost zero.  Hunters are now working as fisherman, tailors and watermelon producers.  An awareness-raising event we held in December 2012 involved close to a thousand people, local government and non-governmental organisation representatives.”

Source: BirdLife Interenational media release, 22nd April 2013.

Read more about Sonadia Island and the thoughts of Rob Sheldon, the RSPB's Head of International Species Recovery Team, who is visting the site currently on the RSPB Blog site.