In stunning video, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology researcher has captured the first-known images of newborn chicks of a critically endangered species in the wild.
The spoon-billed sandpiper chicks hatched in Russia's northeastern Chukotka region where it borders the Bering Sea. Researchers estimate as few as 100 breeding pairs remain in the wild. And with a 25 percent rate of decline each year, the species could be extinct within a decade.
Cornell Lab videographer Gerrit Vyn spent 2 months in the northeastern Russia tundra and followed the sandpipers through June and July.
The sandpipers arrive in late May and early June, while snow still covers much of the land.
Once a breeding pair mates in the spring, they become inseparable.
Their numbers have dwindled due to habitat loss in their migratory stopover paths of Japan, North and South Korea, mainland China and Vietnam, and their wintering grounds in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Vyn spent four days waiting for four eggs to hatch. Rather than watch the nest constantly, he used headphones to listen for newborn chicks.
From day one, the chicks feed themselves, foraging close to the nest at brief 5 to 10 minute intervals. The sandpipers feed on insects like mosquitoes and fly larvae, along with vegetation like crowberries and grass seeds.
The adult calls the chicks back to the nest to warm up. And the chicks tuck under the wings of the parent. The fathers look after the chicks during the day and the mothers at night. But when the last egg hatches, the female heads south, and the male rears the chicks until they become independent about 20 days later.
Vyn hopes his work filming the spoon-billed sandpiper will help awaken global attention to an environmental crisis along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, where more than half of coastal wetlands in China and South Korea have been lost.