First video of rare Asian shorebird’s nest released

Nordmann's Greenshank
A Nordmann’s Greenshank on its nest. Photo by Philipp Maleko/University of Florida Gainesville

This summer in the Russian Far East, an international team of biologists found a nest of a rare, tree-nesting shorebird — the first nest of the species seen in more than 40 years. They took video of the nest — the first ever. 

Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer), also known as Spotted Greenshank, has an estimated population of 600-1300 and is listed as globally endangered. It breeds along the southwestern and northern coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk and on Sakhalin Island. It migrates through Japan, Korea, eastern China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam and winters in Southeast Asia. A steep population decline has occurred in recent decades, linked largely to habitat destruction and illegal hunting in Southeast Asia.

“Almost nothing is known about their breeding ecology, which makes this new discovery so important,” said Dr. Vladimir Pronkevich of the Institute of Aquatic and Ecological Problems (Russian Academy of Sciences), the leader of the expedition.

Pronkevich and his colleagues spent more than two months at the Bay of Sсhastye (“Happiness”), in the remote southwestern corner of the Sea of Okhotsk, conducting a pilot study about the bird’s breeding and migration ecology.

Watch the video

The group found the nest on June 17. Unlike most shorebird species, Nordmann’s Greenshanks place their nests in trees. This one, situated on a branch nearly four meters (13 feet) up a larch tree, was constructed of twigs and lined with lichens that helped camouflage the eggs. Unfortunately, the nest failed; at least two of the four eggs were eaten by a crow. This demonstrates that the threats to the survival of this endangered species extend beyond the problems encountered during migration and on the wintering grounds.

Later, the team also captured and released seven adult greenshanks and eight of their chicks, so they know there are more nests to be found in that area and studied in coming years. They attached unique leg bands to each captured bird so that their individual fates could be tracked.

A researcher holds a Nordmann’s Greenshank chick. Photo by Vladimir Pronkevich/Russian Academy of Sciences

By the end of July, the team had extensively observed, photographed, and recorded several behaviors such as foraging, mating, and bathing. The team left the Bay of Happiness quite happy, taking with them the first-ever video of a Nordmann’s Greenshank nest, the first photos of an incubating adult, and the first vocalizations of chicks.

By early August, three of the banded adults had already been seen by birdwatchers in Shanghai, China, some 3,000 kilometers (1.864 miles) to the south. Most of the Nordmann’s Greenshank population will travel another 3,000 kilometers to Thailand and Malaysia for the winter. Hopefully, some will be seen back at the Bay of Schastye next spring.

“It’s inspiring to see international collaborations like this in action,” says Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the funders of the study. “The work being done with Nordmann’s Greenshanks in Russia informs their conservation in Southeast Asia, and vice versa.”

Thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society for providing this news.

Learn about the conservation work of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership

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