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With a small and declining population of only 1,200–2,000 individuals, the enigmatic and endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank is among the rarest shorebirds in the world. This medium-sized shorebird has dark brown upperparts, clean white underparts, yellow legs, and a robust, slightly upturned bill. In breeding plumage, the breast, flanks, and neck have dense black spotting, earning it the alternate common name “Spotted Greenshank.” A coastal obligate, it relies on intertidal wetlands throughout its range, with a special affinity to estuarine ecosystems. It has a varied diet of benthic polychaetas, oligochaetes, and small crustaceans, but is considered a small crab-specialist in Southeast Asia and small fish-specialist in eastern Russia.
Nordmann’s Greenshank is endemic to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), a migratory corridor that hosts the highest proportion of threatened and endangered shorebirds in the world. It breeds along the Sea of Okhotsk coast in eastern Russia, stages along the Yellow Sea, and overwinters in Southeast Asia. Critically important sites for overwintering include the inner Gulf of Thailand, Myanmar’s Bay of Martaban, and the entire Thai-Malay Peninsula. China’s Rudong mudflats may support the entire global population during migration. Important sites for breeding include the bays of Khabarovsk Krai and northeastern Sakhalin Island in Russia. The species faces a multitude of threats throughout the EAAF including habitat loss (due to development, reclamation, climate change, invasive species, and pollution), hunting and poaching, disturbance, and inadequate protection. The socioeconomic and geopolitical differences among the 22 EAAF countries make mitigating threats in the region especially difficult, with shorebird populations and habitats suffering the consequences. Additionally, there is a natural lack of the specialized habitats required for breeding, migration, and overwintering that may limit population abundance.
Its breeding ecology is poorly known, as accessing the remote wilderness along the Sea of Okhotsk coast in the Russian Far East remains challenging. Based on a few studies, its breeding requirements seem to be very specialized, necessitating three habitat types for breeding and post-breeding activities in relatively close proximity: sparse inland Cajander larch (Larix cajanderi) forest stands for nesting, marshy coastal meadows or lowlands for chick-rearing, and intertidal flats for foraging. Nordmann’s Greenshank is one of only three tree-nesting shorebird species, and the only one known to build its own nest. Only 10 nests (including 4 inactive nests) have ever been found, and until recently, it was thought to nest solely in larch trees. However, an active ground-nest was found in an inland bog in 2020, highlighting how little is known about its breeding ecology.
Conservation efforts would be aided by expanded research and monitoring. Priorities include comprehensive surveys to identify critical sites for protection, expanded breeding ecology studies, migratory ecology studies with tracking devices, quantifying the availability of suitable habitats throughout the EAAF with remote sensing, assessing the impacts of habitat loss, as well as hunting and poaching, identifying all limiting factors and threats, and understanding site use on various scales. Collaboration between local communities, research entities, non-governmental organizations, individual countries, and the international community is needed to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.