Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor


Justification of Red List category
This spoonbill is precautionarily listed as Endangered on the basis of a suspected very rapid population decline over the next three generations, owing primarily to the predicted loss of habitat to industrial development, land reclamation, and pollution. Recent population increases have now been confirmed as genuine and sustained based on standardised monitoring effort, and if the predicted very rapid declines do not materialise the species will warrant downlisting in the near future.

Population justification
The January 2017 census recorded a new high of 3,941 birds, thus the total number of mature individuals is estimated at c.2,250, as adults appear to account for around 57% of the total population (Yat-tung Yu in litt. 2017). The population has been inferred to have historically numbered c.10,300 individuals (Yeung et al. 2006), which fell to an estimated low of 288 individuals in 1988. Regular monitoring via the International Black-faced Spoonbill Census has indicated a recovery. 1,069 individuals were counted during the 2003 census, 2,065 individuals in 2008 and 3,272 individuals in 2015 (Yu et al. 2015) representing a steady increase on previous totals that may reflect genuine increases and result from successful conservation measures at a number of sites (Yu 2008, Chan et al. 2010). Some uncertainty remains over whether census increases represent increased survey effort, displacement of birds from unknown wintering sites or genuine population increases, thus on the basis of on-going habitat loss and degradation the overall population may decline in the near future.

Taiwan is still the largest wintering area for the species, where there were a total of 2,060 individuals (a marginal increase of 26 birds). The increase in the total global population was mainly a result of more records from mainland China, which had a 32% increase from 330 individuals in 2015 to 434 in 2016. Increases were also recorded in South Korea, Japan and Macau. Worryingly, however, the figure from Deep Bay (Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, China) decreased from 462 individuals in 2010 to 371 individuals this year, which represents a cumulative decrease of nearly 20% over the period (including 40 fewer individuals than 2015).

Trend justification
For some years annual censuses have indicated year-on-year increases in the surveyed population. It was initially unclear whether these represented genuine increases, displacement of birds from degraded and destroyed sites or simply an increase in observer effort. These annual census figures are now derived from a consistent methodology and scope, indicating that the increase in what is considered to be the vast majority of the global population is a genuine finding, and that there are not significant numbers elsewhere. Analysis of survey data from 42 sites between 1997-2014 found that the global population increased from 535 individuals in 1997 to 2,726 in 2014, an annual increase of 8.0% (Sung et al. 2017). Nevertheless, it is precautionarily suspected that very rapid population declines may take place over the next three generations, owing primarily to the predicted loss of habitat to industrial development, land reclamation, and pollution.

Distribution and population

Platalea minor breeds on islets off the west coast of North Korea and South Korea, and offshore islets in Liaoning province in mainland NE China (Birdlife International 2001). Birds have been reported in the Tumen estuary of Russia, and breeding was recorded in South Primorye for the first time in 2006 (Litvinenko and Shibaev 2007). The three major wintering sites are the Tsengwen estuary of Taiwan (China), the Deep Bay area of Hong Kong (China), and the Chinese mainland and Hainan Island. It also winters in Cheju, South Korea, Kyushu and Okinawa, Japan, and Red River delta, Vietnam (Yu Yattung 2003), and there are recent records from CambodiaThailand, the Philippines, Macau (China) and inland China (van Zalinge et al. 2013, Yu and Swennen 2005). The key known stopover sites used during migration include Yueqing Bay, Wenzhou Bay and Sanmen Bay (Ding Ping 2002), as well as Chongming Dongtian, Shanghai (Yat-tung Yu in litt. 2012).


It breeds in mixed colonies on small islands from March to August (Wei Guoan et al. 2005). Breeding success is low. It is mainly a crepuscular feeder and utilises intertidal mudflats (Yu and Swennen 2004b); resting, sleeping and digesting occur at a variety of sites (trees, man-made structures, shallow water) within 2-3 km of feeding areas (Yu and Swennen 2004a). Spoonbills employ tactile feeding using lateral sweeps of the bill to locate fish and shrimp prey (Swennen and Yu 2005). Satellite tracking has shown that birds wintering in Hong Kong and Taiwan migrate along the coast of eastern China to northern Jiangsu, then over the Yellow Sea to the Korean peninsula. Wintering birds form large aggregations and it has been recorded amongst flocks of Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia (Yu and Swennen 2005). Occasionally Black-faced Spoonbills also use freshwater habitats (Yu and Swennen 2005, Wood et al. 2013). It matures at five years of age and birds of at least 9.5 years old have been recorded in the wild (Yu 2005).


Recent speculation suggests that pollution from pesticides is most congruent with demographic history, in terms of scale and timing of declines and subsequent recovery, as an explanation of past population reduction (Yeung et al. 2006). However, habitat destruction is probably the biggest threat currently. The breeding range of this species lies almost entirely in the Yellow Sea area where the intertidal mudflat has been reclaimed in an alarmingly fast rate (Yat-tung Yu in litt. 2016). The main wintering grounds are threatened by industrial development, particularly a key site in Taiwan and also in China, and reclamation, especially in South Korea, Japan and China. Economic development in China has converted many coastal wetlands into aquaculture ponds and industrial estates. Pollution remains a major threat to birds wintering in Hong Kong. An outbreak of botulism at one of the major wintering sites killed 73 birds representing 7% of the world population from December 2002 to February 2003 (M. C. Coulter in litt. 2003 , Yu 2003), and isolated cases of botulism still happen every winter to kill several individuals at both Taiwan and Hong Kong (Yat-tung Yu in litt. 2016). Increasing levels of disturbance by fishers and tourists and also hunting are threats in China and Vietnam (Wei Guoan et al. 2005). Fishers in China collect waterbird eggs at nesting sites.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected in China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan. Breeding sites in North Korea, at Taegam-do, Unmu-do, Sonchonrap-do and Tok-do, are designated as seabird sanctuaries and sites in China have been declared as non-hunting areas. Main wintering sites are now protected including Tainan National Park (Taiwan), Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay (Hong Kong), Taipa-Coloane wetland (Macao), Haifeng (Guangdong, China), Xuan Thuy and Tien Hai (Vietnam), and Manko (Japan). An action plan was published in 1995 and workshops involving all major range countries were held in 1996 and 1997. A second single species action plan was published in 2010 (Chan et al. 2010). Education material, satellite tracking and field survey results and management recommendation have been produced. Annual censuses have been conducted in recent years. Several international and national symposiums have been regularly organised since 2006 and the East Asia-Australasian Flyway Partnership Black-faced Spoonbill Working Group has been set up in 2013 aiming to facilitate and promote international collaboration of BFS conservation activities.  

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey coastal wetlands in China for additional wintering sites and summering sites for non-breeders. Ensure full protection of the new breeding sites in China, important wetland sites along the western and southern coast of South Korea, and wintering sites at Hakata Bay and Ariake Bay, Japan. Develop management plans and education programmes for all sites. As pollution has been heavily implicated in the major population reduction that this species suffered, environmental monitoring is recommended as a proactive step to prevent future pollution or disease outbreaks (Yeung et al. 2006). Continue annual population censuses.


76 cm. Smallish, white spoonbill with blackish bill and face. Similar species Eurasian Spoonbill P. leucorodia is larger, has yellow tip to bill and white face.


Text account compilers
Crosby, M., Martin, R, Taylor, J., Harding, M., Bird, J., Ashpole, J, Chan, S., Symes, A., Pilgrim, J., Benstead, P., Peet, N.

Pursner, S., Schubert, D., Lin, M., Yu, Y., Coulter, M., Hester Jr, R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Platalea minor. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/black-faced-spoonbill-platalea-minor on 03/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 03/12/2023.