Great Snipe is the fastest migratory bird ever discovered

Written by Planet Earth Online

Apart from its long, elegant beak, the great snipe looks just like any other wading bird. But researchers have found that this ordinary-looking creature could well be the fastest bird on Earth – over long distances at least.

After following the birds’ migration south from Sweden to central Africa using tiny tracking devices, Swedish scientists found that the birds fly non-stop over a distance of around 4,200 miles (6,760km) at a phenomenal 60mph (97kmh).


Great Snipe displaying. © Patrik Olofsson

A lot of birds can fly either very far or very fast, but it’s rare to find one that can do both. The Peregrine Falcon is possibly the fastest bird on the planet: it reaches a startling 200mph (322km/h), but only while diving to catch its prey. And the Arctic Tern flies further than any other bird during its migration – around 50,000 miles (80,500km) from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again. Although this is an incredible feat for such a small bird, it doesn’t fly at great speed.

We know of no other animal that travels this rapidly over such a long distance,‘ write the authors in their report, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters today.

What’s also unusual is that its migration route takes it over land that is perfectly suitable for a stopover.

We never expected record-breaking flights for this ordinary bird. Along its routes, the snipes have plenty of opportunity to stop over and feed on earthworms, insects and other invertebrates and this is exactly what land birds normally do,‘ says Dr Raymond Klaassen from Lund University in Sweden, lead author of the study.


We know of no other animal that travels this rapidly over such a long distance.


Migratory birds almost always choose to stop over during their migrations if they can, at a place where they can rest and refuel before continuing their epic journeys.

Even though Arctic Terns fly over the Atlantic, they still stop to re-fuel on surface fish on the way. On the other hand, the Bar-tailed Godwit flies from Alaska to New Zealand with no stopover, ‘because it has no choice,’ says Klaassen.

Flying long distances has its costs. Migratory birds need to have the necessary fuel onboard before they set off. This invariably means they’re not agile, because they have to be so fat, which could make them vulnerable to predators. But that doesn’t seem to put the great snipe off.


Great Snipe with geolocator. © Raymond Klaassen

Before this study, scientists had almost no idea where the endangered birds go once they leave Scandinavia.

We thought they might go to Africa, but we didn’t know where. Also, nobody sees the Great Snipe over the rest of Europe. We put this down to them being so elusive and thought tracking them would reveal the other places they hide,‘ says Klaassen.

The only real way to find out was to fit them with tiny tracking devices, called geolocators.


The actual size of the geolocator. © Raymond Klaassen

These devices – developed at the British Antarctic Survey – weigh just 1.1 grams and, including attachments, make up a fraction of a per cent of an adult bird’s body weight. They record light intensity; when this data is fed into a computer program, scientists can figure out when and where the birds travelled.

After the breeding season, but before the annual migration, the researchers fitted 10 male great snipes at Jämtland in Sweden with a geolocator each. Exactly a year later, the scientists managed to retrieve three geolocators from three birds when they returned to Sweden after their northward migration.

Klaassen and his colleagues found that one bird flew 4,225 miles (6,800km) from Sweden to central Africa in just 3.5 days. The other two birds flew 3,833 miles (6,169km) in three days, and 2,870 miles (4,619km) in two days.

We think maybe the feeding conditions are so good in Scandinavia, the birds take advantage of the opportunity to feed up,‘ Klaassen says.

Indeed one report says that come autumn, the birds are so fat, they’re barely recognisable from how they looked in May.

The great snipe is an endangered species. ‘Its numbers have gone down a lot, and it’s almost disappeared from mainland Europe. It’s now restricted to the mountainous regions of Norway and Sweden,‘ adds Klaassen.

The feeding grounds seem to be more important than researchers realised. ‘We need to find out exactly where they’re feeding and what they’re feeding on. It would be good to see them before they migrate, when they’re really fat,’ he says.

Scientists have long known that snipes are incredibly fast birds. The word ‘sniper’ originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India: if a hunter was skilled enough to kill an elusive snipe, he was called a sniper.

Great Snipes breed in Scandinavia from mid-May to early-July. The birds leave their breeding ground from early-August onwards. The return northward migration happens between March and April.

Other fast creatures
The Arctic Tern tops the list for longest migration, flying 50,000 miles (80,500km) from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again every year;

Cheetahs are the fastest creature on land (over short distances), reaching speeds of 75mph (121kmh) within three seconds of a standing start – faster than most sports cars;
Peregrine Falcons dive through the air at speeds of around 200mph (322kmh) to catch their prey;
The Sailfish is the fastest fish, reaching speeds in excess of 70mph (113kmh);
Dragonflies are the fastest flying insect on Earth, sometimes flying at 40mph (64kmh).

Red Knot wintering population drops by more than 5,000, accelerating slide to extinction

Written by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey

Decline emphasizes need to list the knot under the Endangered Species Act and implement stronger protections at key U.S. stopover

Scientists today released a report announcing that a decrease of at least 5,000 red knots was observed at key wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego, Chile from the previous year. Scientists reported population counts of wintering knots in other locations declined as well. The estimated current total population for the migratory shorebird is now unlikely to be more than 25,000.

The decline in red knot numbers elevates the importance of implementing stronger protections at Delaware Bay, a key U.S. stopover where migrating knots depend on an abundant supply of horseshoe crab eggs to fuel the final leg of their migration to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

The scientists’ report concludes that despite horseshoe crab harvest restrictions put in place by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission over the past decade “there is still no evidence of recovery of the horseshoe crab population, either in numbers of spawning females or in all sub-adult age groups including juveniles.” Restrictions to date have only been enough to stop the population from declining further, are insufficient to recover the population and will continue to be insufficient unless the harvest is greatly reduced.


A red knot feeds on horsehsoe crabs on a Delaware Bay beach. © Bill Dalton

Conservation groups are calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to take immediate steps to list the red knot under the Endangered Species Act. A listing would initiate the development of a recovery plan and require federal agencies whose actions affect red knots to consult with the FWS. A listing would also require the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, housed under the National Marine Fisheries Service, to consult with the FWS on the regulations it establishes for the horseshoe crab fishery. The following are statements from groups pursuing an endangered species listing:

It’s simple, to halt this decline and imminent extinction, we must list the red knot now and view all shorebird protection through the same lens,” said Margaret O’Gorman, executive director for Conserve Wildlife Foundation. 

This year’s huge decline in wintering red knots provides clear evidence that the status quo is not working. Unless action is taken now, red knots may be on an irreversible slide to extinction,” said Bob Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “The U.S. has a responsibility to the global community to protect this migratory shorebird, which stops along our coast to rest and feed while making one of the longest migrations in nature, from the tip of South America to the Arctic.

 “The bad news demands we redouble our efforts to rebuild the horseshoe crab population of Delaware Bay,” said Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society. “A listing of the red knot under the ESA will allow for management of the horseshoe crab population to be directed toward recovery of the shorebird populations, and not simply the local fishing interests. We urge the USFWS to make this a priority.

 “Until recently, the Delaware Bay resplendent with spawning horseshoe crabs and over a million shorebirds was the land of plenty – our Serengeti,” said Eric Stiles, vice president for Conservation and Stewardship for New Jersey Audubon Society. “The red knot is one of the shorebirds whose very existence is teetering on the brink of survival. Unlike special interest naysayers, we have full faith in the Endangered Species Act. Only through listing will the robin-sized, chestnut colored shorebird be enjoyed by future generations.

The decline of the shorebirds and the horseshoe crabs that sustain them is not speculation; it is a proven reality documented by science and history. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Counsel, among those charged with protecting the species, has ignored the science and the harm in order to assuage their political allies. In the absence of strong and earnest action from the ASMFC, we need strong action from our states. While New Jersey has taken that strong action to protect the crabs and the birds, Delaware’s actions leave a lot to be desired when the politics heats up” expresses Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

 “The rufa red knot, which once darkened the skies during their migration, now stands on the very knife-edge of extinction. The states along the east coast, with the exception of New Jersey, dithered for decades and now the only way to save this subspecies is for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place it on the Endangered Species List. With this new report, it is clear that if the federal government doesn’t act soon, the next generation of Americans will never see this amazing long-distance migrant. People who want to see this bird in the wild best make plans in the near future because the way things are going, it will be gone sooner rather than later,”  said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy for ABC.

 “A population decline this large and this rapid is almost unequalled in our lifetime,” said Greg Butcher, Director of Bird Conservation for National Audubon Society. “Surely such a bird requires the immediate protection of the Endangered Species Act and needs to be a top conservation priority for all of us.

Time is running out for ???Australia???s??? migratory shorebirds

Written by Australian Wader Studies Group

Imagine the unique perspective migrating birds have of the Earth. Each year they fly thousands of kilometres across entire oceans covering the vast expanse of the planet, its many different climates and landscapes.


Bar-tailed Godwits are facing extensive habitat loss in the Australasian Flyway. Image was kindly offered by KK HuiAll rights reserved.

This unrivalled view also enables them to notice the dramatic changes that are currently threatening many of our planet’s ecosystems. Each year more and more of the sites migratory birds depend on during their journeys disappear. As these ecosystems change, there is no guarantee that the habitats migratory birds need along their migration path, will be there the next time they return.


Migrating Bar-tailed Godwits at their stopover site. Image was kindly offered by James Lagden. All rights reserved.


While you are reading this article another hectare of shorebird habitat has disappeared in the Yellow Sea!


While you are reading this article another hectare of shorebird habitat has disappeared in the Yellow Sea! Habitat that is essential for migratory shorebirds stopping to feed on their way from Australia to their breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska. The AWSG urge you to voice your concern now read more in the attached article “Minutes to Midnight“.

Wadden Sea Flyway Workshop – Strengthening Management and Research along the African-Eurasian Flyways

Written by AEWA

An international workshop dedicated to strengthening management and research on migratory birds along the African-Eurasian Flyways took place in Wilhelmshaven, Germany from 22 – 23 March 2011.


The two-day workshop was chaired by Dr. Gerard C. Boere, one of AEWA’s founding fathers, and brought together 35 experts from a number of African and European countries as well as Russia and the United States to try to identify ways of improving research and international cooperation between the Wadden Sea and other important sites for migratory birds along the African-Eurasian Flyways.

The Wadden Sea is used by around 12 million waterbirds on their way from their breeding grounds in the tundra of Siberia, Greenland and Northeast Canada to their wintering areas in Western Europe and Africa. While many birds remain in the Wadden Sea for the winter, at least 3.5 million migrate further south to sites along the western coast of Africa, such as Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania and the Bijagos Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau.Within the African-Eurasian Flyway migration system this combination of breeding, staging and wintering areas is known as the East Atlantic Flyway.

The workshop was organized in response to a June 2009 UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision to nominate the Dutch and German parts of the Wadden Sea as a World Heritage Site. The World Heritage Site listing not only stresses the international importance of the Wadden Sea as one of the main breeding, staging, moulting and wintering areas for millions of migratory birds, but also recognizes that the site is part of a chain, or network, of other key sites for migratory birds along the African-Eurasian Flyways.

The World Heritage Committee decision (33 COM 8B.4) also includes a strong request to the States Parties Germany and the Netherlands to “strengthen cooperation on management and research activities with States Parties on the African-Eurasian Flyways, which play a significant role in conserving migratory species along these flyways“.

Germany and the Netherlands are taking this request very seriously and the Flyway Workshop held in Wilhelmshaven was an important initial step towards identifying ways to address and implement the specific request for more flyway cooperation made by the World Heritage Committee” says Bert Lenten, Executive Secretary of AEWA, who gave a presentation on behalf of AEWA at the workshop.

While the Wadden Sea is generally a well-protected area and has a very successful joint monitoring programme for birds, the situation in Western Africa and the Arctic is inadequate in terms of the availability of reliable data and monitoring capacity. Hence, workshop participants agreed that there is a need for more sustainable and long-term monitoring programmes and an increase of coordinated capacity building measures along the flyway, particularly in Africa.

Although the recommendations from the workshop are still being finalized, a number of presenters at the workshop emphasized the importance of building on existing structures, such as AEWA and other institutions already engaged in flyway-level activities across the East Atlantic Flyway. For example, several participants highlighted the importance of building on the work which was started under the four-year Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) UNEP-GEF African-Eurasian Flyways Project and is now being picked up by the WOW Flyway Partnership.


The Flyway Workshop in Wilhelmshaven was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I), and was organised by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS).

The results, conclusions and recommendations of the workshop are currently being collated and the final workshop report including recommendations will be presented to the States Parties of Germany and the Netherlands in early May 2011.

Further Information:
CWSS Website: Flyway Workshop: The Wadden Sea – Strengthening Management and Research along the African Eurasian Flyway, Wilhelmshaven, 22-23 March 2011

WHC Decision 33 Com 8B.4 – Natural properties – New Nominations – The Wadden Sea (Germany, Netherlands) 8B.4 – Natural properties – New Nominations – The Wadden Sea (Germany, Netherlands)

First meeting of the AEWA Sociable Lapwing International Working Group in Syria

Written by AEWA

The AEWA Sociable Lapwing International Working Group (SLIWG) is an inter-governmental body which was convened by the AEWA Secretariat in 2010 in order to coordinate and guide the implementation of the Single Species Action Plan (SSAP) for the Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius). The Sociable Lapwing SSAP was approved by the 2nd Meeting of the Parties (MOP2) in 2002, but a revision was initiated in 2009 and a significantly revised and updated SSAP will be presented to MOP5 in 2012. SLIWG is the second AEWA Species Working Group to actually convene a meeting after the Lesser White-fronted Goose International Working Group.


Meeting participants of the first SLIWG meeting. Image curtesy of AEWA

The first SLIWG meeting took place from 18 – 20 March 2011 in Palmyra, Syria. It was attended by representatives of eight Sociable Lapwing Range States: India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey. Additionally, experts of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), BirdLife International and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia (OSME) took part as observers to SLIWG.

The event was hosted by the General Commission for Al Badia Management and Development and the Ministry of State for Environment Affairs of Syria and was accommodated in the Headquarters of the Al Badia Commission. Locally, the organization was ably handled by the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife, supported by the BirdLife International Middle East Secretariat. The meeting would not have been possible without the funding provided by a list of organizations, institutions and initiatives: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife UK) through a UK Darwin Initiative grant, BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, Swarovski Optik, the AEWA Secretariat, Save Our Species and the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

On the first day the Working Group dealt with house-keeping issues, one of which was the election of the chair, Saudi Arabia, represented by Dr. Mohamed Shobrak, who will be heading the group for the period until the next meeting, provisionally planned in three years’ time. The three NGOs attending the meeting (RSPB, BirdLife International and OSME) were confirmed as permanent observers to SLIWG. The Group also signed off two important papers – its own Terms of Reference and the format for National Reports. The Terms of Reference clarifies the goals, role and scope of SLIWG, its membership (expanded to 13 Range States after recent discoveries of important non-breeding congregations of Sociable Lapwings, such as in Oman the frequency of meetings (three years) and the rotational principle of chairmanship (triennial term of office). Financial assistance for eligible countries to attend future meetings will be conditioned by the timely submission of national reports. The Group’s logo, website and intranet were discussed and directions were given to the AEWA Secretariat and the Group’s coordinator on their finalisation.

SLIWG members agreed with the proposal of the Secretariat to outsource the coordination of the Group to RSPB.

The SLIWG also included a session to close the Darwin-funded project on the flyway conservation of the Sociable Lapwing which was implemented by RSPB and other partner organizations over the last two years. The present Range States gave updates on the status of the species in their countries and undertaken research, monitoring and conservation action. Finally, the project leader, Dr. Robert Sheldon, summarized the outcomes of the whole project which constitute a great contribution to our knowledge about the species and its conservation.

On day two, participants broke up into two regional groups and held workshops on the prioritization of activities from the draft revised SSAP to be implemented by each Range State over the next triennial period. This priority list will be guiding the work and fundraising efforts of all involved stakeholders.


The group also brainstormed on monitoring gaps and needs which produced a broad outline of a common monitoring scheme which will be further developed by a drafting group.

Towards the end of the meeting, Jim Lawrence of BirdLife International presented the activity of BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme and particularly the work done on the Sociable Lapwing where the species’ champion has been Swarovski Optik. The meeting participants greatly welcomed the announcement that Swarovski Optik has extended its support for the Sociable Lapwing by another three years. On behalf of Andreas Pittl, Head of Marketing at Swarovski Optik, Jim Lawrence distributed five pairs of binoculars and two spotting scope sets to Range States in support of their field work.


On the final day participants went into the field in the vicinity of Palmyra, including to Al Talila Nature Reserve where Sociable Lapwings have been observed staging during migration in the autumn of 2010.

The SLIWG meeting was supported and moderated by the AEWA Technical Officer, Sergey Dereliev.