Posted by: henrymcghie | October 7, 2014

Rare birds of Siberia

Hello- we have a great new exhibition about the people and wildlife of Siberia on at the moment. Of course, I was keen to get some of the amazing birds of Siberia featured. Siberia was of great interest to British and European ornithologists as long ago as the 19th century, as many of the birds that spend the winter here breed in northern Siberia.

ross's gull Ross’s Gull has often been regarded as the rarest and most mysterious bird in the world. I’ve written about them before on this blog. This species breeds on the tundra in northern Siberia, with tiny numbers breeding (sometimes) on Greenland and in Canada. The bird was discovered (well, by westerners) during the search for the North West Passage (it’s name commemorates JC Ross, the man ‘whose soul was the first to stand on the north magnetic pole’). Even today the bird is mysterious: some are known to summer in the north Arctic Ocean during summer (possibly even at the North Pole), while its wintering grounds are still virtually unknown. The odd one turns up in Britain in winter. This one had been in a private collection in Europe since the mid 20th century; it is a first summer bird, with the black collar of an adult, but with some darker juvenile feathers in its wings.

 

crane The Manchurian Crane is one of the tallest cranes in the world. They breed in Manchuria, on the Russian/Chinese border regions, and in Japan. They are famous for their beautiful displays and courtship dances. This one isn’t quite adult, as its neck is not entirely black. This one had lived in a collection of live birds, but died of a broken leg.

curlew This case combines one of the most tragic, and one of the most hopeful bird conservation stories. The lower specimens are a Slender-billed Curlew, shot in the 1860s on Malta. These birds were well-known to spend the winter around the Mediterranean. They were often shot, and many birds of many species are still killed on Malta. The bird was also quite mysterious as its breeding grounds were unknown for many years. Then, in the early 20th century, a Russian hunter, VE Ushakov, discovered them breeding in Siberia. He found a couple of nests and one egg was passed to an English collector named HE Dresser (I go on about him quite a lot I’m afraid). His collection was passed to the Manchester Museum, and the Slender-billed Curlew egg is the only one known (well, at least the only even semi-reliable one). Unfortunately the Slender-billed Curlew has not been seen for a number of years: it may already be extinct, a dreadful thing to have been allowed to happen in Europe in the 21st century.

The small bird on the upper shelf in the image is a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a bird that breeds in a tiny area of North East Siberia and winters south to China, Korea, Burma and Bangladesh.  The species is unique: although it looks like many other small waders (like a Dunlin or a small Sanderling), it has an extraordinary spoon-shaped beak. The bird went into steep decline even in the early 21st century, and people feared it was hurtling towards extinction. Eggs of the birds were collected and hatched out in England, where there is a captive-breeding population. Conservationists have been running an education programme to try to persuade people not to kill them on their wintering grounds. Hopefully the decline has been slowed- but will it ultimately be successful? Let’s hope so. If you’re interested in helping Spoon-billed Sandpipers, you can help support the RSPB campaign to save the species at the RSPB Spoon-billed Sandpiper Appeal page.

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