Unknown risk of extinction
Also insects and crustaceans
Nests on small offshore islets
The most distinct part of these birds is their flattened spatulate bill, which is reminiscent of the pipa, a Chinese musical instrument. Rapidly and methodically, they sweep their slightly open bill through the shallows to sieve for food. These goofy-faced, round-bodied birds are known to chase after their prey over distances of 1–4 m, with rapid lunges and stabs. Flocks of them coordinate to herd prey cooperatively, stopping now and then to gulp down their catch with a quick head flick and tilt.
Black-faced spoonbills are the rarest spoonbills and the only species of spoonbill to be classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Its feeding behaviour, so fascinating to watch, has made it a firm favourite among birders and other members of the Asian public. It is legally protected throughout East Asia. In summer, the birds breed on offshore islets along the western coast of the Korean Peninsula, along China’s Liaoning and into Russia. In winter, the species migrates southward to winter roosts that stretch from coastal China to the Philippines.
Population pressure and coastal development continue to threaten the species. Ongoing intervention and a long-term commitment to protect sites along its entire migratory route are needed to ensure its continued survival.
A concerted global conservation effort brought this bird back from the brink of extinction in the 1980s. Several wetland reserves in its range have been gazetted under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty. Support for the black-faced spoonbill’s plight has played a pivotal role in this. It is an umbrella species: the preservation of its habitat helps protect other less charismatic birds.
Our spoonbills are part of a managed species programme coordinated by the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA). We are one of only four zoological institutions in the world and the only one out of its range to care for this species.