Spoon-billed Sandpipers arrive on their nesting grounds in late May and early June, while the land is still gripped in ice and snow. Over the course of about two months, as the landscape transforms from white to brown to green, they court, nest and raise their young. Filmed during June and July, 2011, near Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, Russia
The enigmatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper migrates from remote northern Russia to Southeast Asia, where forces such as habitat loss and subsistence hunting are driving it to the brink. The global population is estimated to be as few as 100 breeding pairs, and recentlly the species has declined at a precipitous rate of approximately one quarter of the adult population per year. Unless this rate is stemmed, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper will likely go extinct in less than a decade.
In collaboration with Birds Russia and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force, the Cornell Lab participated in two expeditions in 2011 and 2012 to collect the first high-definition video, high-quality photographs, and stereo sound recordings of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper on its breeding grounds in the Russian far east and its wintering grounds in Myanmar. The images and sounds are being distributed to organizations around the world that are working to conserve the species and its habitats.
The four videos presented here represent the first intimate looks into the life of this species ever recorded. Additional video and audio material will be released here over the coming months.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Courtship
This video, shot during the first few days of a pair’s seasonal courtship, captures rarely witnessed courtship behavior, including an attempted copulation and a nest scrape display. Spoon-billed Sandpipers begin their courtship within days of returning to their breeding grounds. Males perform display flights over favored areas to attract females and establish territories. Once together, a pair becomes inseparable. They forage within earshot of each other, copulate frequently, and prospect for potential locations to nest. Video includes commentary by the Cornell Lab’s Gerrit Vyn. Filmed June 6, 2011, near Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, Russia.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Foraging
In this segment, a mated Spoon-billed Sandpiper pair forages along the edge of a snowmelt pond during the egg-laying period of their nesting cycle. Common foraging behaviors here on the breeding grounds are surprisingly different from the way they feed on the wintering grounds. Birds move more slowly and pick at food items—invertebrates and small amounts of plant material—from the surface in a fashion similar to most other small sandpipers. Video includes commentary by the Cornell Lab’s Gerrit Vyn. Filmed June 9, 2011, near Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, Russia.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Hatch
This piece captures the first moments of life at a windswept Spoon-billed Sandpiper nest. When the young finally hatch and emerge from the nest, after 21 days of incubation, they stumble about on well-developed legs and feet and begin to feed themselves. Females lay 4 eggs in a simple tundra nest in a shallow depression, most often in mosses, lined with a few dwarf willow leaves. Both adults incubate the nest, taking half-day shifts. The male most often incubates during the day and the female at night. After the last chick hatches, the male begins his job of leading the chicks as they grow and become independent about 20 days later. The female departs soon after hatching and begins moving south. Video includes commentary by the Cornell Lab’s Gerrit Vyn. Filmed July 7, 2011, near Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, Russia.