The spoon-billed sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus is one of the most threatened birds on the planet. It breeds on the Chukotsk and Kamchatka peninsulas in the Russian Far East, migrates through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China to winter in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand, 8,000km from its breeding grounds.
Its IUCN threat status was upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered in 2004 and to Critically Endangered in 2008. The species has declined from an estimated 2,000-2,800 breeding pairs in the 1970s to 1,000 pairs in 2000 to less than 100 pairs in 2011, and in recent years the population has been declining at 26% per year. If this trend continues, the population could be extinct in 5-10 years.
Studies on the breeding grounds have shown that adult survival (76% p.a.) and productivity (about 0.6 young fledge per pair annually) are within the bounds of what would be expected for a small arctic-breeding wader species (adult survival may be a bit low). However, the proportion of fledged birds that return to breed is very low (0.05 birds recruited per adult per year). The current population decline seems to be driven by very high mortality of young birds.
The species’ long-term decline may be related to reclamation of inter-tidal staging sites in the Yellow Sea, but trapping on the wintering grounds appears to be a key reason for the recent acceleration in the rate of decline. Young birds remain on their non-breeding grounds for their first two years, and are therefore likely to be more susceptible to trapping.