The next four species taken from my seventies information book ‘The World’s Vanishing Birds’ are all from the far east; China, Japan and Pacific islands. As usual I will be comparing how the book describes the species status with how they are faring today – the illustrations are rather nice too.
Japanese Crested Ibis – The book states that in 1972 this pretty white and red Ibis is only present on Sado island and the Noto peninsula in Japan. It also claims there are none in captivity and only 12 birds left in the wild. Despite its name this bird was once spread throughout China, Korea and Russia as well as Japan. Unusually for an ibis this species breeds in pine forest, although it feeds in rice paddies and wetlands. The species as it stands today is recovering, classified as Endangered, after it very nearly went extinct not long after the book was published. In 1981 just 7 birds were found in the wild in China, the remaining birds in Japan were removed for captive breeding and eventually re-introduced to Sado island in 2008. From such a close shave this species is now thought to stand at over 500 individuals, mostly in a colony in Shaanxi province and captive breeding programmes are ongoing. There is still a way to go though as the habitat of this bird is still declining in quality and shrinking in range, the population is very vulnerable with such small numbers in only two locations.
Hooded Crane – Grus monacha breeds in the bogs of far northern Siberia but winters in China, Japan and South Korea – although in just 10 sites and 80% of the population at Izumi in Japan. The book doesn’t say much except that there are only a few hundred in Japan, it is threatened by disturbance at breeding grounds and destruction of wintering habitat and that there are 73 birds in zoos around the world. Today the global population is estimated at over 11000 individuals but is suffering a long-term decline based on wintering counts. Classed as Vulnerable due to the small number of wintering sites (most of which are shrinking as wetlands are destroyed for development or dam-building) and decreasing population. The Izumi birds are also at risk from disease or another catastrophe because of the high numbers found there (encouraged by supplementary feeding).
Short-tailed Albatross – With a wingspan over 2 metres this is an impressive seabird, which is just what people in the 19th century thought when they started to industrially collect this species for its feathers. Vast numbers were killed right through into the 20th century, until numbers were so low that they stopped killing it – in 1949 it was declared extinct. But that’s not the end of the story; in 1951 the species was rediscovered on its only remaining breeding colony – the island of Torishima off the south coast of Japan. The seventies book claims there were still only 47 birds on the island in 1962, having suffered from parasites, nest predation and volcanic eruptions. Today the albatross is looking a little better with a second colony established on Minami-Kojima and the population estimated at 2,364 individuals and increasing (though still classed as Vulnerable).
Micronesian Megapode – What a name! This little chap looks rather like a funky moorhen and is restricted to islands in the Pacific including Palau and the Northern Mariana islands. The book does not comment on the population size (perhaps because of the difficulties involved in recording a species across multiple isolated islands) and simply says that the cause of its decline is ‘advancing civilisation’. Today we can estimate 2000-2500 individuals across its entire range, this is continuing to decline with its presence on some islands no more than a few birds and it is already lost from Guam. Threats to the species are serious; human disturbance of nest mounds (near beaches), illegal egg collection, volcanic activity, typhoon damage to habitat and predation from introduced species such as rats, cats, lizards, snakes and pigs. It is classed as Endangered.