World's Wading Birds Are Vanishing Fast, Experts Warn

James Owen in England
for National Geographic News
October 20, 2003

Waders are getting into deep water, in some cases to the point where there's no turning back. That's the conclusion of bird experts meeting recently in Cadiz, Spain, to assess the current status of waders around the world.

Having reviewed the latest available data, ornithologists from 20 countries who attended last month's International Wader Study Group conference suggested half of all waders are in decline, with just 16 percent bucking the downward trend. They said well over 100 species were now at risk, with 23 of them classed as "globally threatened."

Made up of some 600 wader experts worldwide, the Wader Study Group (WSG), a non-governmental research organization, stated: "The majority of populations of waders of known population trend are in decline all around the world—a matter of international conservation concern."

The group said environmental damage to the birds' habitat was a major factor behind falling populations.

In particular, it highlighted threats to coastal wetlands used as stepping stones by these largely migratory shorebirds (such as sandpipers and plovers) while traveling to more northerly breeding grounds.

"These staging sites are critical to the birds," said WSG member, Jacquie Clark.

Clark, head of ringing at the British Trust for Ornithology, said Delaware Bay, on the eastern U.S. coast, was a prime example. An important food stop for Arctic-bound waders in spring, research links drastic declines in red knot numbers to commercial fishing in the bay.

"There's a big horseshoe crab fishery in Delaware Bay and there's concern this is causing birds which feed on the crab's eggs to fail in their migrations," said Clark. "Red knots pass through in May. They're only in the bay for three or four weeks but it's a crucial time because the birds winter in southern South America and this is their last feeding point before the Arctic. They have to put on a lot of fat to give them the fuel to make it there."

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control says studies indicate the red knot could become extinct by 2010, with the birds now facing a 44 percent mortality rate during migration.

Land Reclamation

Another internationally important stopover at risk from human activities is Saemangeum in South Korea, where the world's largest land reclamation project will turn 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of tidal mudflats into rice fields.

Continued on Next Page >>


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