The Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) has the most restricted distribution of all spoonbills, and it is the only one currently regarded as endangered.
Confined to the coastal areas of eastern Asia, it seems that it was once common throughout its area of distribution.
Currently, it has a niche existence on only a few small rocky islands off the west coast of North Korea, with three wintering sites at Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as other places where they have been observed in migration.
The global population of this species, based on the winter population count carried out in 1988-1990 in all known sites, was estimated at 288 individuals.
As of 2006, thanks to conservation efforts over the years, the estimated global population had increased to 1,679; the 2008 census resulted in an estimated total count of 2,065 individuals .
The niche population of North Korea does not exceed 30 birds, which implies that there must be another colony which has not been discovered yet, and which is perhaps located in northeast China, for example on the islands of Liaoning (near the Korean nesting zone).
It is thought that the principal cause of the decline of this species is the destruction of its habitat, more particularly the “valorization” of intertidal mudholes for agriculture, and more recently aquiculture and industrialization.
The Korean War (1950-1953) must also have had a negative impact on the species, because the birds ceased nesting in South Korea at that time.
In Japan, where it was once common for them to winter, they became extremely rare at this same time, and in later years there has never been a winter in which more than 5 birds were observed.
In Hong Kong, it is a protected species under Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170. In Mai Po Marshes, a quarter of the world’s population of Black-faced Spoonbill can be found during migration.
Currently, the species is reasonably well protected in North Korea, where their nesting islands off the coast were declared a Zone of Protection with restricted access. There remain nevertheless several threats, mainly in the wintering zones.
The need for land to assign to industry is great in the wintering sites in Taiwan, whereas those in Vietnam are being converted for shrimp breeding, though they are within a reserve subject to the Ramsar Convention.
In Hong Kong, disturbances by fishermen and shell gatherers often prevent the birds from feeding at low tide.
In addition, with the continued expansion of human populations in the Far East, pollution will probably become an important problem.
The Black-faced Spoonbill is legally recognized as natural monument #205 in South Korea.
- BirdLife International (2006). Platalea minor. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 9 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is endangered