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Migratory Birds
© Roger Lee

Migratory birds connect ecosystems and keep nature healthy. But populations of migratory birds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are declining, highlighting the importance of identifying and protecting critical habitats. To protect these precious birds, Wetland Incubator action teams study, restore suitable habitats and raise awareness about the importance of securing their wintering and stop-over sites.   


Shorebird Satellite Tracking

 Shorebird Satellite Tracking
© Kevin Lok

Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay located halfway along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). The EAAF is home to over 50 million migratory waterbirds, and during migration waterbirds rely on different wetlands along the flyway to rest and feed. To formulate effective regional conservation strategies, this section of the Wetland Incubator project gathers data to analyse the intricate, and sometimes enormous, migratory routes of these birds.

Wetland Incubator is working with the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and the Hong Kong Waterbird Ringing Group, have deployed satellite tracking devices and unique leg flags on several waterbirds. In the first year, we tagged ten waterbirds: one Eurasian Curlew, one Nordmann's Greenshank and eight Black-tailed Godwits.

Leg flag no.
Black-tailed Godwit
Yiu Yiu
Ah Nam
Futian Kwan
High 5
A Look
Master 7
Mai Chi
Eurasian Curlew
C kwan
Nordmann’s Greenshank
Siu Ching

Data gathered about the tagged waterbirds and their migration routes can be seen here: Click this link
(Open the menu on the right > select "By project" under "Filter birds" > Untick other projects until only "WWF-Hong Kong migratory bird tracking" is left > click on the bird's name for detail of the individuals)

In response to the upcoming Northern Metropolis Development Strategies, further baseline data on local bird movement will be collected to incubate any potential conservation strategies.

Migratory Bird Education Design Team

Migratory Bird Education Design Team
© WWF-Hong Kong

The Wetland Incubator project put together an education design team in October 2021. After taking part in a Mai Po field day and several brainstorming and sharing workshops, they were divided into three groups, each of which devised an action plan for migratory birds.

Group 1:
Collecting data on ringed birds is important to understand bird behaviour. This group decided to use iNaturalist to set up a dedicated sharing platform on which professional bird photographers can report ringed bird sightings. This accessible platform allows researchers to access data more easily. The group also plans to develop a reward scheme for the platform which they hope will attract more bird photographers.

Check out the Hong Kong Shorebirds Leg Flag Reporting Scheme (beta version) here: Click here

Group 2:
These days, young people gather a lot of their information through social media. This group decided to create interesting and engaging Instagram posts. These posts explain how bird ringing and flyways work through simple graphics, aiming to improve public understanding of the importance of protecting wintering and stopover sites.

Group 3:
This team considered primary school students to be the perfect target group for an introduction to migratory bird education, as children often eager share information with their families. The team created a series of stories that were carefully designed to make education materials more interactive, including a comic about Spoon-billed sandpipers, interactive virtual games, and others.

Their work will be completed soon!

Sharing from participants:

What was your group’s idea? How did the idea come about?

Group 1 Jacky:
Our group’s idea was to establish an iNaturalist platform for ringed birds, since we thought other platforms were neither user-friendly nor attractive to newcomers. Our proposal integrates sighting reports and citizen science and allows both amateur and professional bird photographers to upload photos of ringed shorebirds onto the new platform. At the end of every birdwatching season, we will announce the top three observers – the winners will be determined by the number of qualified observations they upload.

Group 2 Joyce:
Our project was separated into three parts: making Instagram content, designing graphics and designing a Google form. By increasing public awareness of how bird ringing works, we hope that more people will report leg flag sightings!

Group 3 Laughing:
Since most of our team members have an environmental education background, we decided to design a set of teaching materials about migratory birds. Based on the story and experiences that are set out in the LOLO’S FLYING JOURNEY education pack, we designed online learning materials, including comics and interactive challenges that will attract and engage primary and junior secondary students.

Please share something interesting you learned from this programme about migratory birds.

Group 1 Jacky:
Initially, we were confused about the difference between waterbirds and shorebirds – we did not know what to name our project! We later figured out that “waterbird” is a very broad term that covers seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and other birds; whereas our programme only covers waders, for example sandpipers, snipes and godwits. So the term “shorebird” is much more precise and accurate.

Group 2 Joyce:
The Red knot case study clearly showed me how the bird ringing system helps to protect wetlands. The bird ringing programme allowed scientists to follow the migratory path of Red knots, and the data gathered helped to establish a conservation area in the Nanpu wetland, a wetland of high ecological value in Bohai Bay.

Group 3 Laughing:
When I was organising the information, I was surprised that Spoon-billed sandpipers encounter so many challenges during their migrations. Even the food they eat differs from place to place! For example, in their breeding grounds, they feed on various invertebrates like midges, mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and spiders; but while overwintering, they eat mostly marine invertebrates, including polychaete worms and shrimp.

Water Caltrops Fostering Programme

 Water Caltrops Fostering Programme
© Yuen Long Merchants Association Secondary School

The Pheasant-tailed Jacana was once a resident and a passage migrant, with occasional winter records in Hong Kong. However, due to habitat loss, these birds are now predominantly a scarce autumn passage migrant only.

The Wetland Incubator project is seeking to change this – the programme aims to bring together young people and corporate volunteers to experiment planting water caltrops – a type of aquatic plant – in Mai Po, which will hopefully create a suitable habitat for the Pheasant-tailed Jacana and other birds.

Three schools, Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School, Queen Elizabeth School Old Students' Association Tong Kwok Wah Secondary School and Yuen Long Merchants Association Secondary School , joined the programme and began the seed germination process at their respective schools in September 2022. The students then systematically logged monitoring data, which may provide guidelines and tips to make the planting process more efficient in the future. By November and December, the water caltrops had grown to a certain size and the students began transferring and planting them in Mai Po Nature Reserve.

As of the time of writing, some of the water caltrops plants cultivated by the students and planted by the HSBC volunteers had taken root and were growing vigorously at the Reserve, with some producing second-generation seeds! This has enabled a sustainable source of water caltrops in the reserve to maintain our study and scale up our experiment to other Hong Kong wetlands. We are hopeful that this early success will lead Hong Kong towards creating suitable habitats for the much-missed Pheasant-tailed Jacana!