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Rare Birds in Japan 
noting those seen 
during Focus On Nature Tours

A Summary compiled by Armas Hill

Flying Japanese Crane, or "Tancho",
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 


(JPe):   endemic to Japan     (JPeb): endemic Japanese breeder


Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours:    in Japan
in 2015  
  by geographic location worldwide

Some Highlights from Past FONT Tours in Japan

In the FONT Archives:
Some Photos of People, Places, & More during FONT Japan Tours

A List & Photo Gallery of Japan Birds, in 2 Parts:
Part #1: Pheasants to Pittas
     Part #2: Minivets to Buntings

A List of Japanese Mammals  (with some photos)


The following list & notes compiled & written by Armas Hill, who has led FONT tour in Japan for about 20 years, and has himself birded in Japan for over 3 decades. 
Classifications are those designated by Birdlife International. The criteria for classifications follows the listing.

Japanese islands where the birds have been seen during FONT tours are noted in the listing below.



Baer's Pochard     Byran's Shearwater     Siberian Crane     Spoon-billed Sandpiper    

Pryer's Woodpecker
     Amami Thrush 

Classified as:  ENDANGERED:

Oriental Stork     Crested Ibis     Black-faced Spoonbill     Japanese Night Heron     Red-crowned Crane

Okinawa Rail     Spotted Greenshank     Blakiston's Fish Owl     "Owston's (or Amami) Woodpecker"

Classified as:  VULNERABLE:

Baikal Teal     Scaly-sided Merganser     Steller's Eider     Long-tailed Duck     Short-tailed Albatross     

Black-footed Albatross    Buller's Shearwater     Chinese Egret     Steller's Sea Eagle    

Greater Spotted Eagle
    White-naped Crane     Hooded Crane    Swinhoe's Rail     Great Knot      

Eastern Curlew
     Amami Woodcock     Saunder's Gull     Japanese Murrelet     Fairy Pitta     

Amami Jay
     Izu Thrush     Ijima's Leaf Warbler     Bonin White-eye     Marsh Grassbird

Yellow Bunting

Classified as: NEAR-THREATENED:

Copper Pheasant     Falcated Duck     Ferruginous Duck     Laysan Albatross     Swinhoe's Storm Petrel     

White-tailed Eagle     Asian Dowitcher    Long-billed Murrelet     Black Wood Pigeon     

Ryukyu Green Pigeon
     Elegant Scops Owl     Japanese Waxwing     Japanese Paradise Flycatcher     

Japanese Reed Bunting

Some Species that have been classified as NEAR-THREATENED: 

Mandarin Duck     Long-billed Plover     Grey-headed Lapwing     Ryukyu Robin     Silky Starling

Species in Japan classified as CRITICALLY THREATENED:

Aythya baeri

  (during 1 FONT winter tour, in 1998)

The Baer's Pochard is a poorly known species has a small, declining population. Estimates of the total population are about 10,000 individuals. Most occur on mainland eastern Asia, breeding in southeastern Siberia and northeastern China, and wintering in China, Korea, Myanmar (has been known as Burma), and eastern India.

Puffinus bryani 

The Byran's Shearwater was described in 2011, from a specimen that had been collected in 1963 on Midway Atoll, northwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
At that time, that small shearwater was thought to be a Little Shearwater.
Later, a second specimen was tagged and recorded on Midway in 1990.

In February of 2012, DNA tests on 6 specimens of Puffinus bryani found in the Ogasawara Islands of Japan, alive and dead between 1997 and 2011, determined the birds to be Bryan's Shearwaters. It is assumed that the species still survives in the uninhabited Japanese Ogasawara Islands.

Another shearwater in the Ogasawara Islands is not well known. It was considered as part of the Audubon's Shearwater. 
It is now named the
Bannerman's Shearwater, and it is a Japanese endemic breeder only in the Ogasawara group of islands. Some have recently referred to it by the name "Tropical Shearwater".     

Grus leucogeranus

(during FONT winter tours in 1997, 2000, 2001,& 2004)

The Siberian Crane is a rarity in Japan. On occasion (as during the 4 years noted above), a single individual winters at Arasaki, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, with the combined approximately 10,000 Hooded & White-naped Cranes.

The Siberian Crane is now classified as "critical" because it is expected to undergo an extremely rapid decline in the near future, primarily as a result of the destruction and degradation of wetlands in the areas of its migration and wintering grounds. The wintering site, holding 95% of the population, in China, is threatened by changes that will come about with the Three Gorges Dam project. 
The total population of the species is between 2,500 & 3,000, making it, at this time, the 3rd rarest crane in the world.

A Siberian Crane with White-naped Cranes in Kyushu,  Japan
(photograph  by Trevor Ford, of Australia,
 during FONT Japan Tour in January 2000)

The Siberian Crane is a large, white bird with black on its wings, is (as noted above), at this time, the third rarest crane in the world (after the Whooping and the Red-crowned Cranes). 
It is probably, at this time, the most threatened of the world's cranes.

Until just over 20 years ago, in 1981, the Siberian Crane was believed to be even more rare, and endangered. It was in that year that about 800 birds were discovered to be wintering at Lake Poyan, China's largest freshwater lake, along the Yangtze River. With that, the known population nearly doubled. Subsequent field surveys showed the total population of the species to be from 2,500 to 3,000 birds.

Still the outlook for the species is precarious. According to the crane specialist, George Archibald, "from the tundra to the subtropics, few endangered species involve so many complex problems in so many countries as does the Siberian Crane".

There are 3 populations of Siberian Cranes. All but a few of the maybe 3,000 birds belong to the eastern population, which breeds in northeastern Siberia, and winters along the Yangtze River in China.

Another very small central population breeds in the lower basin of the Kunovat River in western Siberia, and winters in the Indian state of Rajaasthan (most regularly in the Keoladeo National Park). When this population was observed at its wintering grounds in 1992-93, it included just 5 birds. Only 4 birds were observed at the Kunovat breeding grounds in 1995.

The western population (also very small and threatened), which apparently held at 8 to 14 birds in the late 1980's and early 1990's, has wintered at a single site along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea in Iran. The exact location of the breeding grounds of that population is unknown, but it's thought to be in the extreme northern portion of European Russia.

Thus, 2 populations of this species are extremely vulnerable (on the verge of extinction). These populations have continually declined from just over 100 birds in the 1960's (when they were discovered).

The Siberian Cranes that have occurred in Japan as vagrants have been wanderers, on occasion, from the larger eastern population of the species that normally winters in China.

Actually, in the past, the Siberian Crane was a common winter visitor in Japan on Kyushu prior to the Mejii Era. Throughout the 20th Century, it became an accidental, but there were some occurrences from Hokkaido south to Okinawa. Most in Japan, however, continued to be on Kyushu. Interestingly, there were single birds in Hokkaido in Oct-Dec 1977 and May-Sep 1985. The latter was a summering bird in the Kushiro district, where the resident Japanese population of Red-crowned Cranes reside.

Where Siberian Cranes breed, huge distances separate nesting pairs. Within each 1000 square kilometers in the breeding range, there are only 1 or 2 pairs of cranes.

The Siberian is the most aquatic of all cranes, exclusively using wetlands for nesting, feeding, and roosting. The nests are in bogs and marshes. In migration and in wintering areas, the bird prefers to feed and roost in shallow wetlands. Preferred foods are roots, sprouts, and stems of sedges and other aquatic plants. It seldom forages above the water line.

Two more photos of the Siberian Crane in Japan.
The species is truly an exciting rarity to see in Japan.
During FONT tours there, we've seen it 4 different years,
but never more than a single bird.
In the lower photo here, a Siberian Crane
is in a field with a White-naped Crane


Eurynorhynchus pygmeus

(during 1 FONT winter tour)

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper was seen during one FONT Winter Japan Tour on the southern Japanese island of Amami. 

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is an overall very rare species, breeding in far eastern Siberia. It winters coastally in Southeast Asia. 
The global population of the species was, not long ago, in the early 2000s, estimated as under 4,000 birds. The population at the known breeding grounds was said to be about 1,000 individuals, thus indicating a greater than 50 per recent reduction in the last decade or so. 

Not only is the global population of the species declining rapidly, there is another problem: in that population, recently, there has been very little recruitment of young birds.
Although breeding success is low, it seems that the main factor in the Spoon-billed Sandpiper's decline appears to be the low rate of return to the breeding grounds.
Data collected from 2003 to 2009 on birds at Meinypilgyno (the main breeding site for the species in far-eastern, Siberian Russia), it is suggested that recruitment into the adult breeding population was effectively zero in all those years (2003 to 2009), except for 2005 & 2007.

When we first started at FONT to note the classification of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the 1990s it was listed as "vulnerable".
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper was uplisted to the category of "critically endangered" in 2008, when the total breeding population of the species was thought to be from 150 to 320 pairs. 
In 2009-2010, the estimate was sadly revised downward to from 120 to 200 pairs.    

One factor that may be responsible for the decline of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has been the loss of resting and feeding areas along the migration flyway for the bird. There are about 8,000 kilometers of coastline between the bird's breeding grounds in Arctic Russia and its non-breeding grounds in southeast Asia. That's a long distance traveled by the bird that's about 6 inches in length.

The particular site along the coast in South Korea where the largest-ever concentration of migrating Spoon-billed Sandpipers was recorded is now the site of the world's biggest reclamation project. That habitat, vital for bird, has been lost.
Other tidal mudflats around the coast of the Yellow Sea are rapidly being lost to agriculture, industry, and urban development.

Another factor in the bird's decline is that at its wintering grounds in Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh, numbers of them have fallen victim to the trapping of sandpipers by hunters. 
And when a population is as small as it for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, any number lost by such practice is detrimental. 

Starting in 2008, an international team of researchers has surveyed, each year in January, in Myanmar the Arakan coast and that of the Gulf of Martaban, the wintering population of Spoon-billed Sandpipers.
The coast of the Gulf of Martaban has become known as the most important wintering site for the species with about 220 birds found in 2010/2011.
Based on data from the breeding grounds, that is about half the estimated world population, and over twice as many birds as found at all the other known wintering sites put together.

Although the trapping by local hunters in Myanmar, referred to above, does not deliberately target Spoon-billed Sandpipers, they are caught as a "bycatch" in nets set for larger birds or pegged close to the mud to catch retreating fish as the tide goes out.
The 2010 survey confirmed this large-scale hunting and trapping along the Gulf of Martaban. Hunters indicated trapping up to 350 waders (or shorebirds) in a single night.
One morning in January 2010, a hunter brought the survey team a Spoon-billed Sandpiper he had caught the previous night along with about 100 Red-necked Stints. 
The single Spoon-billed Sandpiper, still alive, was marked with a red flag and released by a group of local children.
That same hunter also indicated that he had last caught a Spoon-billed Sandpiper the previous August (in 2009). It was an immature bird.
Not only are young birds more likely than adults to fall victim to hunters, they are also likely to be affected disproportionately because they are thought not to return to the breeding grounds until they are two years old. Some, during that time, are speculated to spend the entire intervening year in their non-breeding area.                        

In September 2012, at a global meeting in Korea of biologists and other environmental scientists, a list was distributed of the "100 Most Endangered Species in the World", referring to all life, animal and plant. It was under the auspices of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Zoological Society of London.

In that list, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was positioned as number #10, making it the "most endangered bird species on Earth" in the opinion of that group, and sadly a candidate, unless something is done, for extinction.

For more about the 100 Species in the List, go to:   ENDANGERED SPECIES  

Above: a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in breeding plumage.
Below: In non-breeding plumage, a Spoon-billed Sandpiper
appearing as one was in Amami, Japan during a FONT tour. 

In 2012, the conservation group SOS, "Save Our Species"  was a partner in an innovative project to boost the number of juvenile Spoon-billed Sandpipers at their breeding grounds in Chukotka, in eastern Russia.
With the WWT, the "Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust", a IUCN member working with the Moscow Zoo and "Birds Russia", there was tremendous success, during the summer of that year, hatching, rearing, and releasing 9 Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks.
Those 9 chicks were hatched from 11 eggs carefully taken from the breeding grounds on the tundra. They were monitored, hatched, and nourished in the nearby village of Meinypil'gyno before being released. The project required constant attention and effort. The fledglings gained strength living in an open-air aviary designed to shelter the birds from predators. For added protection, a guard kept vigil day and night.
The pioneering work is significant in that in the wild just 3 Spoon-billed Sandpipers out of every 20 eggs survive long enough to start their 8,000 kilometer migration to southeast Asia.

Also, as part of the project, another 20 thumbnail-sixed eggs were transported from Arctic Russia to a WWT facility in Slimbridge, England.
The first chicks were hatched there on July 4, 2012.
Of the 20 eggs that were brought to the UK, 18 chicks successfully hatched.
Those new birds were added to 12 fully-grown Spoon-billed Sandpipers that were already at the WWT center, having been brought in at the start of the conservation breeding program in November 2011.

The eggs, that were brought to England in 2012, were for more than 17 hours in flight, transported by helicopter and airplane in a journey that took, totally, 7 days to complete.    
One of the eggs cracked during an airport inspection and had to be sealed using nail varnish.
When the Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks hatched, they were about the size of a large bumblebee.

The WWT hopes that the increasing size of the captive flock of Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the UK would help trigger breeding behavior in the birds when they would later reach maturity at two years of age.   

A Spoon-billed Sandpiper illustrated in England,
in the early 20th Century,
about a hundred years
before a conservation project in the UK
aiming to save the species.

(formerly Sapheopipo) noguchii
(during FONT spring, summer & winter tours)

The Pryer's, or Okinawa Woodpecker was considered close to extinction in the 1930's. 
Population estimates since 1950 have ranged from 40 to 200 birds, with the most recent estimate being of 90 birds. 
This species has been found during every FONT tour in Okinawa.

The Pryer's, or Okinawa Woodpecker

The Yambaru forest (above) in northern Okinawa is the only place on Earth for the 
Pryer's, or Okinawa Woodpecker and the Okinawa Rail
(referred to later in this list).
Both species have been found there during FONT Japan Tours
along with some other notable birds including the Amami Woodcock
(also in this list),
and other rare wildlife such as the Okinawa Spiny Rat and the Okinawa Flying Fox.

The Okinawa forest, in the photo above, known as "Yambaru" has been visited during over a dozen FONT tours over the years. 
A number of rare & special species live in that region. Most notable among the birds are the very rare Pryer's Woodpecker and the Okinawa Rail.
We've spent many hours, during our tours, both in the day and after dark, exploring that forest. At night, in that forested area we were in the quest of the rail, owls, and the Amami Woodcock that occurs in northern Okinawa in addition to the more-northerly island of Amami.

A very rare mammal we've seen there during FONT tours, on one occasion was the Okinawa Spiny Rat (in the list referred to previously, with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, of the "100 Most Endangered Species in the World").

Another rare animal we've seen there is the Okinawa Flying Fox, Pteropus loochoensis, a "megabat" in the Pteropodidae family. 
It was previously listed as "extinct" by the IUCN, but because the two known specimens are taxonomically uncertain and of "unknown provenance", it was changed to "data deficient".
Our two sightings of the Okinawa Flying Fox were both very late in the day, as it was getting dark.

Some taxonomists treat the Okinawa Flying Fox, Pteropus loochoensis, as a subspecies of Pteropus mariannus, the Mariana Fruit Bat, with a range on Pacific islands from the Japanese Ryukyu islands in the north, south to Guam.

Zoothera major

(during FONT spring, summer & winter tours)

In the mid-1990's, the breeding population of the Amami Thrush was estimated as being about 60 birds. The similar White's Thrush is smaller. 

The Amami Thrush has a cheerful song, delivered mostly in the morning, and similar to that of the Siberian Thrush, another Zoothera species. The White's Thrush has a more mournful song delivered mostly at night. 

The Amami Thrush, found only on that island, is confined to mature (over 60 years old), subtropical, evergreen forest, at an altitude of 100 to 400 meters. It is a shy bird.

Species in Japan classified as ENDANGERED:

Ciconia boyciana

(during 2 FONT winter tours, very rare on Kyushu) 

With a total population of about 2,500 birds, the Oriental Stork breeds only in the Amur and Ussuri basins (along the border of Siberia and China), and winters, mainly, in eastern & southern China. 

The last Oriental Stork of the breeding population that was in Japan died back in 1971. That was on the main Japanese island of Honshu, near Kinosaki.
A few years before nesting
Oriental Storks were extirpated in Japan, a re-introduction program began, with some birds from Russia.
In May 2007, for the first time since 1964, an
Oriental Stork chick successfully hatched in Japan. That was in that same area of Honshu, near Kinosaki, where Oriental Storks previously were. 
Since then (in 2011), about 50
Oriental Storks were living in the wild in wetlands and fields in that area.  
A key part of the successful return of the
Oriental Stork in that area is that a program was initiated with local farmers for the growing of rice without pesticides. Thus, the food of the storks, fish and frogs, have again flourished, as have the storks and other birds too.

For an itinerary of an upcoming FONT tour to the place in Japan with Oriental Storks, and without pesticides, go to:



Nipponia nippon

Late one afternoon, during the May 2010 FONT tour, near the city of Kanazawa, on Honshu, we went to a museum to see what was to be a most interesting exhibit about a bird, known in Japanese as the "Toki". Its English name is the Crested Ibis. Its scientific name is Nipponia nippon. "Nippon" means "Japan".

The Crested Ibis is one of the rarest of the world's birds. A few decades ago it seriously flirted with extinction.

When I began birding in Japan in the early 1980s, my bird book, and nearly the only one available in English, was "A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan" published by the Wild Bird Society of Japan, with its second and last printing in English in 1983.
On the cover of that book was a color illustration of two
Tokis, or Japanese Crested Ibises, in flight. I've never forgotten that cover illustration! And, yes, I have hoped to somehow one day to see the bird!

Crested Ibis

In the text of that "Field Guide to the Birds of Japan", regarding the Japanese Crested Ibis (as it was called then), it was stated:
"In 1981 all 5 wild birds (remaining in Japan) were captured on Sado Island for cage breeding. In 1982, 1 male and 3 females were still alive in cages on Sado. In 1981, 7 (wild) birds were found in (a remote part of central) China." (Those 7 birds in China were 4 adults and 3 chicks.)

The last of the Crested Ibises born out of captivity in Japan died in 2003.

At the Crested Ibis exhibit we visited in the Kanazawa museum, there was a map on the wall showing what had been the distribution of the bird in Japan. It struck me as quite interesting that historically a center of abundance had been the picturesque Noto Peninsula where we had birded the previous day. The birds, when there, favored rice paddies where they fed on frogs.
If, by some quirk, we had seen a
Crested Ibis, an ultimate rarity, when there, it would have made our rare Chinese Egret that we had seen a few years previously in a rice field, "abundant" by comparison!
Sado Island, by the way, the last home of the
Japanese Crested Ibis in Japan, is not far, really, as a bird would fly, from the north end of the Noto Peninsula where we visited a lighthouse.

Also on the wall in the Kanazwa museum, there was a series of photographs, all taken about 3 to 4 weeks before our visit. In one of the photos, there was a baby Crested Ibis that had just been born in captivity.

In a newspaper, just before we left Japan, there was the not-so-good news that Crested Ibises that had been released into the wild on Sado Island, had, once again in 2010, failed to breed. Four pairs had laid eggs there in the spring of 2010. Ultimately, all of the nests were abandoned. Disturbance by crows seemed to be a significant factor. If the Crested Ibises on Sado had bred, it would have been the first successful breeding in the wild of that species in Japan in 34 years.

Some good news, however, is that the population of Crested Ibises in China has been steadily increasing. For the past 23 years, since when only 7 individuals were found, China has bred and protected the species.
By June 2002, the wild population in China numbered 140 birds, and the captive population there in 2 breeding centers was about 130 birds.
The most recent population estimate in China is of about 500 individuals.

In Japan, the Crested Ibis historically, in the early 19th Century, was common and widespread. In the late 19th Century and through much of the 20th Century, it declined drastically.

As recently as the mid-20th Century, there were two wild populations of Crested Ibises on the Noto Peninsula. One group there, in 1957, consisted of 14 birds. By 1961, it was down to 3. It nested there for the last time in 1962. In 1964, a single bird remained, which was later to be moved to captivity on Sado Island in 1969.

On Sado Island, there were 27 wild Crested Ibises in 1941. The following decade, in 1957, there were only 11. The decline there continued until, as noted, the species became extinct in the wild in Japan in 1981.

Since 1985, Crested Ibises from China have been transferred to Japan for captive breeding.
Over 100 individuals are now in captivity, with some in zoos, and about 30 (that is 29) at the Japanese Crested Ibis Preservation Center on Sado Island.
In September 2008, that center released 10 of the birds as part of its Crested Ibis restoration program, which aims to have 60 ibises in the wild by 2015.
Hopefully, toward that end, the breeding success in Japan will improve, so there would be a growing Japanese population as there has been in China.

An update:

In the spring of 2012, the first
Crested Ibises were born in the wild in Japan since 1976.
The first chick was seen in the camera (at the nest) on April 22. It was the first of 3 chicks in the nest.
The parents were a 3 year-old male and a 2 year-old female. Both were released from captivity in March 2011, among about 45 released
Crested Ibises known to be alive at that time (in the spring of 2012). 
As of 2012, 78
Crested Ibises have been released into the wild on Sado Island since September 2008.

Platalea minor

(during 1 FONT winter tour)
(during FONT winter tours)
(during 1 FONT winter tour)
(during FONT winter tours)

The global population of the Black-faced Spoonbill is estimated as being about only 700 birds. It breeds on small islands off the west coast of Korea, and in one province of eastern China. It winters from southern Japan south to Taiwan, Hong Kong (China), and Vietnam.


3 rare Black-faced Spoonbills in Kyushu, Japan, February 2005.
This species was also seen later during the same tour in Okinawa.
During the previous FONT Japanese birding tour, in December 2004, 
one was seen on the island of Amami
During the FONT tour in January 2007, a single bird was seen
along a river in Honshu, north of Narita. It was the first for FONT on Honshu. 


Gorsachius goisagi

Grus japonensis

("Japanese Crane") 
(during all FONT spring & winter tours on Hokkaido)  
("Manchurian Crane")  (during 1 FONT winter tour, very rare on Kyushu)

The Red-crowned Crane is the 2nd rarest crane in the world, after the Whooping Crane in North America.

The total Red-crowned Crane population in the wild has recently been estimated as being from 1,700 & 2,000 birds. 
As of 2011, the estimate of the global population of Red-crowned Cranes was 2,750 individuals in the wild, but with only 1,650 of them being mature birds.

In Japan, there is a resident population (information follows).

In mainland Asia, there is a migratory population that breeds in northeast China and southeast Russia, and winters in Korea and China.
Recent numbers of wintering birds, in the mainland Asia population, have been:
600 to 800 in China
300 to 600 in North Korea (that number has been increasing)
200 to 300 in South Korea    

Also notable in mainland Asia is that the first Red-crowned Crane ever found in Mongolia occurred there in 2003.     

In Japan, the current resident population of the Red-crowned Crane is on the northern island of Hokkaido, and there only in the southeast portion of that island. It occurred also in southwestern Hokkaido until about a hundred years ago.

But now, southeast Hokkaido is the only place in Japan where the Red-crowned Crane normally occurs.
At one time, it bred on all 4 of the main Japanese islands, but it declined dramatically in Japan in the 19th Century. By 1890, it remained in Japan only in Hokkaido.
A Red-crowned Crane in northern Honshu in June 2008 was the first sighted on that island in a hundred years. 
In the 1920's, the total Japanese population of the Red-crowned Crane was only about 20 individuals. Since then, the number in Hokkaido, due to protection and artificial feeding (in the winter), has increased, as noted below, to over 1,000 birds.

At the time of the first FONT tour in Japan, in 1993, there were 569 resident Red-crowned Cranes in Japan on Hokkaido. 
Just over a decade earlier (when Armas Hill made his first visit to Hokkaido to see Japanese, or Red-crowned, Cranes), there were just over 300. 
The following list shows how the population has changed (increased) in Japan since then.

1980 - 251
1981 - 277
1982 - 309
1983 - 333
1984 - 339
1985 - 383
1986 - 421
1987 - 390
1988 - 416
1989 - 463
1990 - 453
1991 - 505
1992 - 522
1993 - 569
1994 - number not available
1995 - 600
1996 - 619
1997 - 615
1998 - 706
1999 - 740
2000 - 771
2001 - 887
2002 - 898
2003 - 948
2004 - 1,003
2005 - 1,081
2006 - 1,013
2007 - 1,200
2008 - 1,280
2009 - 1,324
2010 - 1,235
2011 - 1,143
2012 - 1,163

As noted above, there is a migratory population of the Red-crowned Crane on continental Asia in northeast China, eastern Siberia, and Mongolia, wintering in eastern China and Korea. In 2004, that population was determined to be between 1400 and 1600 birds.
One of these Red-crowned Cranes (a "Manchurian Crane", rather than a "Japanese Crane"), an immature bird, was seen on Kyushu (with White-naped Cranes & Hooded Cranes) during the FONT February 2005 tour. It was the first such occurrence of a Red-crowned Crane there in 37 years!  

Years ago in Japan, a tradition developed with the folding of 1,000 paper cranes. Doing so, a person petitioned "a crane" for happiness, good luck, and a long healthy life. Strings of paper cranes were often hung at temples and shrines.
In 2011, students around the world folded paper cranes to help raise money for earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan.   

Red-crowned, or "Japanese", Cranes in Hokkaido,
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 



Gallirallus okinawae

(during FONT spring & winter tours)
The Okinawa Rail, found only in a portion of northern Okinawa, became known to science only as recently as 1981. Its discovery that year was a great surprise to ornithologists. No new bird had been discovered in Japan since 1922 (and that was a nocturnal storm-petrel). Local people, however, in the forested Yambaru region of Okinawa had in fact known of the bird, calling it "Agachi" or "Yamdoi".

The Okinawa Rail has commonly been believed to be flightless, but that may not be entirely so. Some birds sleep at night in trees, as high as 11 meters above the ground. Others (some adults and all chicks) have been found to sleep on the ground. While it's normally very difficult to see this usually shy bird in the forest, it can be easy to hear one. The call carries far. Peak singing is around sunset and sunrise. Pairs duet. 
The population of the Okinawa Rail is estimated at about 1800 birds, or 900 pairs. 

An Okinawa Rail 
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 

Tringa guttifer  

The Spotted, or Nordmann's Greenshank is very rare, breeding only by the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk, and on North Sakkalin Island (north of Japan) and possibly in the western Kamchatka Peninsula. In Japan, it is a rare migrant.


(formerly Ketupa) b. blakistoni

(where it has been seen during every FONT late-fall & winter tour; there have been 24 such tours)

This large and very rare Blakiston's Fish Owl occurs in southeastern Siberia (where there may be a few hundred birds), China (where there may be up to a hundred birds), and in central & eastern Hokkaido in Japan (where there's an estimated 120 birds). Its total population may thus be only in the hundreds, less than a thousand birds. 

Blakiston's Fish-Owl, Hokkaido, Japan 

This bird is as extraordinary and formidable as any owl in the world. The Blakiston's Fish Owl (as it has traditionally been called) is huge, with a wingspan of about 6 and a half feet. It's larger than the Eagle Owl of Siberia.

Its legs are fully feathered. Its toes are bristly as are those of other fish owls. It's interesting that structurally the Blakiston's Fish Owl has features of both the "fish owls" (genus Ketupa) and the "eagle owls" (genus Bubo).

In addition to Hokkaido, Japan, the species occurs only in far-eastern Siberia (including Sakhalin and the southern Kurile Islands) and adjacent Manchuria, In that area of mainland Asia, with a cold climate and severe winters, there may be a few hundred birds. They inhabit dense, dark, primeval forests, either coniferous, deciduous, or mixed, bordering lakes, rivers, and even the ocean shore. They live in cold and difficult places for birds that eat mostly fish.

On the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido (a place where winters can also be severe), Blakiston's Fish Owls are seriously endangered, confined to relict areas of undisturbed forest. In 1983, less than 30 birds were recorded. The following year, as survey workers gained more confidence of those guarding secret locations, some 50 birds were located. During that year, 1984, however, only 2 pairs were known to have bred successfully. Since then, in Hokkaido, with successful nest box schemes in the forest, there has been some improvement in nesting productivity. In the wild, nests are usually in large, hollow tress high above the forest floor, but sometimes in decayed fallen trees closer to the ground.    

In the Siberian portion of the bird's range, Blakiston's Fish Owls have been found at a density of 1 pair to every 7.5 to 9 miles of large river. In Hokkaido, in all of  the river valleys now occupied by owls, that figure is less than 6 miles. Territories are occupied by birds for years. Individual owls are so attached to their territories that a bird which loses its mate will remain alone until another may arrive by chance.

Blakiston's Fish Owls
are active throughout the night, as well as around dusk and dawn. In the summer, they may do some hunting (to feed their young), during lighter hours of the long summer days. In the winter, they're exclusively nocturnal, emerging after sunset.

The territorial song is deep and resonant (although it does not travel as far as that of the Eagle Owl). Males and females call together in duets.

Blakiston's Fish Owls, aptly, prefer fish as their primary food. In the late summer, they feed on trout. In the autumn, they turn to salmon. Also, at times, they eat: pike, catfish, burbot, and crayfish. In the spring, they live largely on swarms of frogs that spawn in riverside marshes. Small mammals (such as hares and martens) are also eaten, as well as an occasional duck, Hazel Hen, or smaller bird. At some places, the owls feed along rocky seacoasts. Where they exist in sufficient numbers (and that's not many places), they may gather during the winter in small groups by openings in the river ice.

In Hokkaido, Japan, the Blakiston's Fish Owl, like the Brown Bear, was once held in reverence. The fish-owl was known as "the god who defends the village". Later, it suffered persecution, especially during the winter when it was compelled to live close to openings in the ice, and, therefore, could more easily be killed.

Today, under Japan's conservation laws, the Blakiston's Fish Owl is fully protected. 

Recently, the fish-owl in Japan is said to have suffered, ironically, from the attention given to it by people who actually favor its protection and well-being. This applies particularly to photographers (and there are many of them in Japan) and other enthusiasts. There are some who don't realize the damage they can cause the bird. Recent efforts to discourage them have included trapping the owls and placing highly-reflective rings on their legs to make them less attractive in flashlit photographs. It's become a matter of concern to ornithologists that such "extreme methods" seem needed in order to protect a bird that's on the verge of extinction in Japan.

Above & below: the Blakiston's Fish Owl photographed in Hokkaido, Japan. 

(formerly Picoides) (leucotos) owstoni 

(FONT spring & winter tours)

Endemic to Amami Island, the "Owston's Woodpecker" has traditionally been considered a subspecies of the White-backed Woodpecker, as the largest and darkest race of that wide-ranging species that occurs across the Palearctic. So distinctive is this Amami resident, however, it may well be determined to be a full species.


Species in Japan classified as VULNERABLE:


Anas formosa

(during FONT winter tours) 
(during FONT winter tours)

During the years of many of the FONT tours in Japan, the Baikal Teal was classified by Birdlife International as "vulnerable".
However, more recently, that organization has changed the classification of the bird to that of a species of "least concern", as its population has been increasing.
However, in this listing, we're keeping the species in this position as its story is so interesting, and the status of the bird may yet change again.    

In the first decade of the 21st Century, the population of the Baikal Teal has grown rapidly, and the species has not experienced the decline that was predicted. That notwithstanding, the species remains potentially threatened by a number of factors. it tends to congregate in very large flocks, and it suffered rapid declines in many parts of its range in the 20th Century, due to various threats.
At roost sites, with a large number of birds, significant numbers have died recently during disease outbreaks, Also, dry rice paddies, that have been favored feeding sites, have been converted to vegetable farms and other uses.
If evidence arises that such threats cause a decline, the Baikal Teal may warrant uplisting.

The Baikal Teal h was classified at the end of the 20th century as "vulnerable" as it had, for years, a rapidly declining population.

In the early 20th Century, it was one of the most numerous ducks in eastern Asia, with flocks of several thousand regularly reported. During the 1970's, and afterwards, there was a significant decline.
At least in part, that decline was thought to be due to excessive shooting or netting in the bird's wintering range and along its migration routes. 
The bird has had a habit of gathering in large dense flocks, and making predictable daily movements. There's an account of about 50,000 birds being netted during 20 days by 3 hunters in Japan in 1947.
In South Korea, in the early 1990's, there were, at 2 locations, about 20,000 and 30,000 birds. 
In Japan, during the last 50 years of the 20th Century, and into the 21st Century, the Baikal Teal decreased from a status of "abundant" in the winter to that of being "uncommon".  

As the 21st Century began, wintering counts of the Baikal Teal in South Korea increased dramatically, from about 20,000 birds (as noted in the early 1990s) to a total of 658,000 recorded during surveys in 2004, including 600,000 along the lower Geum River. 
A very large number of 1.06 million birds was counted in January 2009, with concentrations of over 20,000 birds at 6 different sites.
Thus, there has been a genuine population increase in South Korea, with a yearly average increasing from 11,533 birds during the period 1999 to 2003 to 314,994 birds from 2005 to 2009.
This increase in the South Korean wintering population of the Baikal Teal is thought by some to be linked an increase in newly reclaimed land and a decline in hunting pressure.
In addition to the recent increase of the Baikal Teal population in South Korea, there has also been lately, some large and recently-unprecedented numbers at a few sites in China. 
The Baikal Teal nests in river basins in northern & northeastern Siberia. The male is an exquisitely-patterned bird. 

A drake Baikal Teal

Mergus squamatus

(during 2 FONT winter tours) 

This Scaly-sided Merganser has a small and declining population. Its total population is estimated as between 3,500 and 4,500 individuals. Most breed in southeastern Siberia, in Khabarovsk and Primorye. The breeding population in China (in the northeastern Manchurian region of Heilungkiang) is estimated as 200 to 250 pairs, and it is declining.

So, the Scaly-sided Merganser is a rare bird. And, overall, little is known about it. The species is closely related to both the Common Merganser (or Goosander) and the Red-breasted Merganser, with Its range overlapping with both even during the breeding season.

The distribution within the nesting range is sparse, along fast-flowing rivers. Territorial pairs occupy at least 4-kilometer stretches of rivers. Birds are normally found in pairs, or in small family parties. If in groups, outside the breeding season, the groups are small. The birds are shy and wary. Their flight is fast and low.

Nests are in holes of old riverside trees. After nesting, the extent of migration is uncertain. Some birds seem to go only to the lower reaches of the rivers along which they bred (particularly those that flow from the eastern side of the Sikote range in Siberia). Others have been recorded considerably further away. There are old records of wintering birds in southwestern China. Also, the bird has been recorded elsewhere in China (particularly in the valley of the Yangtze), and in Korea, and more rarely in Japan, northern Vietnam, and northern Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Outside the breeding season, the Scaly-sided Merganser can be encountered on open lakes, but generally its preference is to be along rivers.

During the winter, the species is apparently rare, but regular, in Japan. It was first discovered there in the mid-1980's. Also during that decade, the species was found for the first time in Taiwan in winter.

Determining the population of this species has been difficult due to the remoteness of the breeding range and the secretiveness of the bird. Surveys conducted in Siberia, however, seem to have shown a considerable decrease since the 1960's.

Polysticta stelleri

An immature Steller's Eider
photographed during a FONT tour 

Clangula hyemalis

(during FONT winter tours)  

The Long-tailed Duck has recently been classified as a "vulnerable" species by Birdlife International.

A male Long-tailed Duck
(photo by Howard Eskin)


20  SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS  (has also been called STELLER'S ALBATROSS)  (JPeb) 
Phoebastria albatrus

pelagically, off Honshu
(during FONT spring & winter tours twice, both times in 2000 - in January & in early June) 

The Short-tailed Albatross has a very small population, and a breeding range limited to 2 Japanese islands. Recent conservation efforts have resulted in a gradual population increase. 

But it is one of the rarest of the world's albatrosses, having recently flirted with extinction. It was formerly abundant in the North Pacific, and seen even as far away from the breeding sites in Japan as off the California coast of western North America.

The global population of the Short-tailed Albatross, or the "Aho-dori" as it is called in Japanese, following the 2006-2007 breeding season was said to be 2,364 individuals, with 1,922 birds at the principal breeding colony on Torishima Island, and 442 birds at the other more-southerly Japanese breeding colony in the Senkaku Islands.

In 1954, there were only 25 birds (including at least 6 pairs) at Torishima. In 2006, there were 426 breeding pairs on that island.   

Historical information follows below relating to the albatross colonies at both Torishima and in the Senkakus.

The recent population figure given above was based upon the direct observation of breeding pairs at Torishima, along with estimates of non-breeding birds at sea and estimates of the breeding and non-breeding birds from the Senkakus (Minami-kojima). 
With that population figure noted here, the likely number of mature birds is somewhere from 1,500 to 1,700 individuals.

Short-tailed Albatrosses have been seen during 2 pelagic ferry trips (as part of FONT Japan Tours) off the east coast of Honshu, once in January and once in early June.
Although the range of the bird in the Pacific is large, it seems that the Short-tailed Albatross is most apt to be seen in areas of upwelling along the shelf waters of the Pacific Rim, particularly along the coasts of Japan, eastern Russia, the Aleutians and elsewhere in Alaska.
During the breeding season (at Torishima), from December to May, the Short-tailed Albatross is in its highest density around Japan.
Satellite tracking has shown that during the post-breeding period, females spend more time offshore from Japan and Russia, while males and juveniles spend more time around the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Sea, and off the coast of North America.
Juveniles have been shown to travel about twice the distance per day and spend more time within the continental shelf than adults.                    

An adult Short-tailed Albatross
(photo courtesy of Cameron Rutt)

The Short-tailed Albatross has historically bred on at least 11 small Japanese islands (in the Bonin, Izu, and Ryukyu (Nansei Shoto) groups). 
Away from its breeding sites, the bird has had on the open ocean, a widespread range, as noted above, from Japan east to the Bering Sea and the west coast of North America. Most of the records off Alaska, Canada, and the west coast of the mainland US have been during June-November. The species was formerly common along the western North American coast.

The Short-tailed Albatross was brought to the verge of extinction during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries by plume hunters. The feathers were used for stuffing quilts and pillows. 
Another factor in the decline was habitat disturbance on islands where the birds bred, particularly on Torishima (one of the Izu Islands, 580 kilometers south of Tokyo). For years, it was only on the volcanic ash slopes of that island that the species was known to breed.

Torishima was settled by humans in 1887. Until about 1900, from 10 to 50 people lived there. The tame albatrosses were easily killed, as many as 100 to 200 a day, up to 5 million birds in 12 years. In 1902, a major volcanic eruption on the island killed many of the human inhabitants. The albatross population was severely reduced, primarily by the slaughter of the birds, and secondarily by the volcanic activity. In 1929, only about 2.000 birds remained on Torishima. People who then recolonized the island conducted what would be the last great massacre of the bird (nearly the entire remaining population of the species). By 1934, the Short-tailed Albatross was thought to be extinct.

An immature Short-tailed Albatross
(photo courtesy by Cameron Rutt)

Miraculously, in the early 1950's, 8 to 10 albatrosses appeared on Torishima. As immature birds, over the years, they had been wandering the seas. During that decade, numbers varied from 20 to 30. 
In 1958, on Torishima, there were only 14 or 15 adults, 5 to 7 immatures, and 8 chicks. 
Since then, there's been a slow but steady increase in the population of the bird, with Torishima, most of the time, the only known breeding location for the species in the world.

In 1960, all of the chicks (6 of them) were found killed. Only 22 adult birds were found. But during the 1960's, the population began to rise more substantially to over 50 birds. 
In the 1970's it was to over 60. By 1979, the count was 95 birds (& 22 chicks). 
In March 1981, there were about 130 birds (& 34 chicks). In November 1981, 63 eggs were found. In March 1982, there 21 chicks with about 140 adults and subadults. 
The total population figures following 1979 were based on observations at Torishima together with estimates of non-breeders away from the colony. Thus, in 1982, the world population of the species was said to be about 250 birds. Since 1979, over 50 eggs have been laid annually.

In 1991, the Short-tailed Albatross population had risen to about 500 birds. Since then it has increased further. The rate of increase has been about 7% per year. Thus, the population doubled in 10 years. Breeding success improved with grass transplantation to stabilize nesting areas. Still, however, the population remained rather vulnerable due to the volcanic nature of Torishima.

In 2008, ten Short-tailed Albatross chicks were moved by helicopter from Torishima to another island, Mukojima, about 350 kilometers to the southeast in the western Pacific Ocean.
Mukojima, in the Bonin Island group, was a site of a former Short-tailed Albatross colony. Birds bred there until the 1920s. Mukojima is non-volcanic.

At Torishima, 80 to 85 per cent of the world population of the Short-tailed Albatross nest on a highly erodible slope on an outwash plain from the caldera of an active volcano. 
Monsoons send torrents of ash-laden water down the slope across the colony site.
A volcanic eruption would be catastrophic for the birds.        

During recent years, the Short-tailed Albatross has also been at a Japanese island other than Torishima. 
The bird has been on the southerly island of
Minami-kojima, one of the Senkaku Islands.. 
12 adult birds were found there in 1971. Breeding was not confirmed there until 1988. 
A population of 75 birds was estimated there in 1991 (among them 15 breeding pairs). Since then, about 100 birds have been at the island.

During late 2012, the uninhabited
Senkaku Islands were in the news due to tension between Japan and China. In Chinese, they are the Diaoyu Islands. Translated into English, they are the Pinnacle Islands.
They are located 200 nautical miles east of the mainland of China, 200 nautical miles southwest of the Japanese island of Okinawa, and about 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan.

Senkaku Islands are uninhabited by people, but they are now inhabited by birds, the rare Short-tailed Albatrosses.

The story, told above, of the decimation of the
albatrosses at Torishima is well known. The story at the Senkaku Islands was, historically, and unfortunately, a similar sad one, of decline and disappearance, and then, later, recovery. 
But the number of birds now at the Senkakus is not as large as at Torishima.

At the Senkakus, the
albatrosses were also slaughtered for feathers.
In 1884, it was said that "the Senkakus were so awash with
albatrosses that there was almost no room to set foot ashore".
In 1985, after victory in the Sino-Japanese War, Japan officially claimed sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands.
That same year, the Japanese government allowed a man named Tatsushiro Koga to "develop" the island and for he and his men to collect feathers of the
"Aho-dori", the Short-tailed Albatross.
In 1897, they killed 160,000 of the birds, dramatically slashing the population.

In 1900, on the Senkakus, only a small number of Short-tailed Albatrosses could be found, containing, in all, just 20 to 30 birds.
In the years that followed, with the birds gone, the business on the island changed for a while to guano mining, and then to tuna fishing in nearby waters.
By 1940, people had left the islands, and
not a single albatross was to be found there. As late as 1963, searches there found none.

In the late 1960s, the possibility of oil and natural gas reserves under the seabed around the Senkaku Islands was announced, and shortly after that the issue of territorial rights for the area between Japan, China, and Taiwan began, and, still, as of now, has continued.

But during the second half of the 20th Century, the population of the
Short-tailed Albatross has been recovering. And now it is again a breeding bird in the Senkaku Islands, particularly on the one island there known as Minami kojima. 

Also notable on the Senkaku Islands, on Uotsuri-jima, an endemic mammal has been found, the Senkaku Mole, Mogera uchidai.

Regarding the history of the
Short-tailed Albatross in Japan, it should be noted that:
In 1958, the Japanese government declared the bird to be
"a special bird of protection".
In 1962, the bird became a
"special national monument".
In 1993, with the ""Act for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora"", the
Aho-dori, or Short-tailed Albatross was designated by Japan as one of the "national rare species of wild animals", and therefore always to be protected.     

Regarding the history of the Senkaku Islands, it might also be noted that:
From 1945 to 1972, the United States administered the islands before returning them to Japanese control under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty between the US and Japan. 

In the central Pacific, at Midway Atoll (in Hawaii), 1 or 2 Short-tailed Albatrosses were present during the last 2 decades of the 20th Century. An incubating bird was found there in 1993, but the egg was abandoned.
More recently, in this century, a pair of
Short-tailed Albatrosses came to Midway in 2007. 
In 2009, they built a nest but no egg was seen.
In November 2010, however, an egg was discovered under the presumed male of the pair. It hatched on January 14, 2011. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the fledged youngster left the island on June 11, 2011, surviving the tsunami which followed the Japanese earthquake of March 2011. Assumedly, that young albatross would not return to Midway for 4 to 6 years.
That 2011 Midway fledgling represents the first time that the
Short-tailed Albatross has been known to breed outside Japanese territory.         

Back in Japan, at the Torishima breeding colony, adult birds return in October. Eggs are laid October-November. Young are fledged from May onwards.  

The following text is from "The Birds of Japan: Their Status & Distribution", by Oliver L. Austin Jr. & Nagahisa Kuroda, published in 1953, and written when the Short-tailed (or Steller's) Albatross was thought to be extinct:

Diomedea albatrus (Pallas)
Steller's (Short-tailed) Albatross
Japanese name: Ahodori (meaning "fool bird")

This magnificent albatross is probably extinct. Its disappearance was caused partly by the volcanic eruptions which destroyed its former nesting grounds on Torishima, but primarily by the activities of the plume hunters of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. The most-recent definite record is the one for the few birds banded on Torishima in 1933 and killed there in 1934 (cf. Austin 1949b: 283-295).

It formerly bred on Torishima in the southern Izu Islands, on the northernmost of the Bonin Islands, and on isolated islets in the southern Ryukyus and the Pescadores. Its nesting season was from November through April. After the young were on the wing, the birds moved northward along the Japanese coast to summer in the Bering Sea, and then down the west coast of North America as far as Baja California, before returning to their breeding grounds in late autumn. The spring flight past Japan was marked by the numbers of dark-colored immature birds it contained, which could be confused with the Black-footed Albatross. The immature Steller's differed from the adult Black-footed only by its larger size and its lighter-colored bill, neither of which could be discerned at a far distance. An adult Steller's could also be difficult, at a distance, to tell in the field from the adult Laysan Albatross


Phoebastria nigripes

pelagically, off Honshu 
(during FONT spring & winter tours) 

Breeds on the northwestern Hawaiian Islands (USA) and 3 outlying islands of Japan. Colonies have disappeared on other Pacific islands. There was a near 20% decline between 1995 & 2000.

Puffinus bulleri

pelagically, off Honshu
(during FONT spring tours)

Egretta eulophotes

Honshu (during a FONT spring tour)
Hegura Island (during a FONT spring tour)  

The Chinese, or Swinhoe's Egret breeds on small islands off the coasts of eastern Russia, North & South Korea, and mainland China. It formerly bred in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The global population of the Egretta eulophotes has been estimated to number from 2,600 to 3,400 individuals.
A recent survey (published in 2012) of a breeding population on an offshore island in southern China indicated a decline of 22 per cent in 6 years.
Overall, for the species, a decline of up to 20 per cent has been suspected over 10 years.

A Chinese, or Swinhoe's Egret was seen on a small island off the west coast of Honshu during a FONT Japan Tour.
That small island, called Hegura-jima, is renowned for its migration of birds, including vagrants, in the spring and fall.

More surprisingly, another Chinese Egret was found during that same FONT tour on mainland Japan, at a rice paddy in western Honshu.

For more about birds found during the 7 FONT birding tours on that small island off the west coast of Japan:, go to:



Haliacetus pelagicus

(during all FONT winter tours on Hokkaido) 
(during FONT winter tours on Honshu twice, a rarity there; apparently one bird two consecutive years)

The total population of the Steller's Sea Eagle is estimated at about 5,000 birds and declining. Most (more than half) of those birds winter in Hokkaido, Japan, and on the nearby Kuril Islands.
Some birds, normally in the hundreds, winter further north on the Kamchatka Peninsula and by the Sea of Okhotsk. Breeding is exclusively in southeastern Siberia.

An adult Steller's Sea-Eagle in Hokkaido, 
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 

Aquila clanga

(during 3 FONT winter tours, at the same location; the latest time in January 2008)

The Greater Spotted Eagle has a large, but highly fragmented, breeding range, from Poland and Finland east to Mongolia and China. It winters in over 30 countries (although in some of them in tiny numbers). It occurs as a vagrant in another 20 countries (including Japan).

The Greater Spotted Eagle was first recorded in Japan in 1952. Since then, it has been on Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and the Nansei Shoto islands. All Japanese occurrences have been in the winter. Recent occurrences in Kyushu, during consecutive winters, have been in the same area - with either one or more birds repeatedly.


Grus vipio

(during FONT winter tours)

The elegant White-naped Crane breeds, for the most part, in wetlands in northeastern China, at about 6 localities. Also, some breed in adjacent Mongolia, and a few do so in Siberia. The total population of the species is estimated at about 5,000 individuals.

Arasaki, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, is a very important wintering site for the species. It is the only Japanese site for the bird. 
In 1987, the count of White-naped Cranes at Arasaki was 1,225.
In 1992, just over 2,000 White-naped Cranes wintered there. 
In 2000, there were about 2,500. 
We learned during our December 2007 tour that on November 24 that year, the count of White-naped Cranes at Arasaki was 1,059.

White-naped Cranes in Kyushu,
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 

Grus monarcha

(during FONT winter tours)  

The Hooded Crane breeds in wetlands in 2 areas of central Siberia. A very few have been known, since 1991, to breed in China. 
It winters at a few localities in Japan, Korea, and eastern China. The total population has been estimated, during recent years, from about 10,000 to 11,800 birds, having increased due to artificial feeding in the winter (particularly at a prime wintering site, Arasaki, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu). 

More than 80% of the world's Hooded Cranes spend the winter at Arasaki. 
In 1987, the count of Hooded Cranes at Arasaki was 6,848.
In 1992, nearly 9,000 birds were there. 
On November 24, 2007, the count of Hooded Cranes at Arasaki was 10,973.  
There is only 1 other wintering locality in Japan: on the main island of Honshu, at Yashiro, with about 100 birds there.
In Japan (& Korea), the species winters almost exclusively at feeding stations and nearby agricultural fields. 
The population of Hooded Cranes has fluctuated considerably since the 1920's. At present, the number is probably as large as at any time since then.   


Hooded Crane in Kyushu,
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 

Coturnicops exquisitus

Kyushu, Amami 
(during 1 FONT winter tour on each island)

The Swinhoe's Rail is known only to breed at a few sites in southern Siberia and southeast China, and it winters in China, Korea, and Japan (including the Nansei Shoto Islands, which includes Amami.) 

Calidris tenuirostris

(during FONT spring tours)

The Great Knot nests in just a few areas in northeastern Siberia. Its total population has been declining. Some migrate through Japan, but less than previously.

Numenius madagascariensis

(during FONT spring tours) 
Okinawa (during FONT winter tours) 

The Eurasian Curlew breeds in eastern Siberia in bogs and wet meadows. The total population has recently been estimated at just over 20,000, with about 19,000 wintering in Australia, with smaller numbers doing so in the Philippines, and north to the Nansei Shoto islands of Japan. The species occurs as a migrant in Japan in the spring and fall.


Scolopax mira 

Amami, Okinawa 
(during FONT spring & winter tours on both islands)

The Amami Woodcock was reported to be common on the Japanese island of Amami in the mid-1980's, mostly on the western half of the island. Numbers near Naze City (Amami) have, during recent years, declined markedly.
The species is not restricted to Amami, but is now known to also occur on the islands of Tokunoshima, Okinawa, and Tokashiki, all in the Nansei Shoto of southern Japan.

The Amami Woodcock is said to lack a roding display (as had by the Eurasian  Woodcock). Instead, it is said to display on the ground. The bird is generally in the forest.  

The Amami Woodcock


(formerly Larus) saunersi

Kyushu, Amami, Okinawa 
(during FONT winter tours) 

The population of the Saunder's Gull, restricted to eastern Asia, has been estimated at about 7,000 birds, and appears to be declining. The rate of decline has probably increased due to land reclamation on tidal flats and disturbance of colonies (both of these factors in the breeding areas). 
The bird has a specialized habitat for breeding: tidal mudflats built up by silt deposits of large rivers. So, land reclamation, especially, and oil exploration have reduced suitable habitat, and unless breeding locations are protected, extinction is a possibility. 

Breeding is mostly in eastern China and sporadically along the west coast of South Korea. In China, breeding is only at just a few sites (7 colonies in 4 provinces). A breeding colony was only found for the first time in 1984.  
Wintering is in China (including Hong Kong),  Taiwan, South Korea, and southwestern Japan). 

Synthliboramphus wumizusume

Honshu (offshore) 
(during FONT spring & late-fall tours) 
(during FONT winter tours)

The Japanese Murrelet is species has a small, rapidly declining population. It is endemic to the warm current regions near central & southern Japan, where it breeds on uninhabited islands. Notable breeding sites in Kyushu are the islands of Biro-jima, Koya-jima, and Eboshi-jima. Breeding also occurs in the Izu Islands of the Pacific, and on small islets off Honshu in the Sea of Japan. 

Surveys since 2009 have recorded about 500 Japanese Murrelets nesting on the Izu Islands each year, with the highest count being 547 birds in May 2011. From those surveys, it is estimated that the area supports at least 1,000 birds, making it the second biggest concentration of the species, after the Biro-jima Islets in the Miyaazaki Prefecture in Kyushu, which have an estimated population of 3,000 birds.
The global population of the Japanese Murrelet is believed to be only 5,000 to 10,000 birds.
During the recent survey in the Izu Islands, 6 new breeding sites were confirmed, on small uninhabited islands In 2010, two of those uninhabited islands were designated as national (Japanese) protected areas.   .   

After breeding, some birds move northward. They also winter along the coasts of Honshu and Kyushu. 

In the Japanese name, "umisuzume" translates in English to "sea sparrow". A Tree Sparrow is 14 centimeters long; a Japanese Murrelet is 24 centimeters in length.

A Japanese Murrelet seen along the coast of Kyushu 
during a FONT Japan Winter Birding Tour in February.


Pitta nympha

(during FONT spring tours)

The beautiful Fairy Pitta breeds in southern Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan. It winters mainly on the island of Borneo, Brunei, and Kalimantan (in Indonesia). In its breeding range, it is localized. The bird's population is unlikely to be more than a few thousand individuals, and is apparently declining.

(has been called LIDTH'S JAY)  (JPe)   
Garrulus lidthi

(during FONT spring & winter tours, on every FONT tour on Amami)

The beautiful, colorful Amami Jay is not only endemic to Japan, but endemic to the island of Amami and the adjacent small island of Kakeroma-jima, in the Nansei Shoto islands. Its population was estimated to be about 5,800 birds in the 1970's.

Some aspects of this bird's behavior are unusual for a jay. It is a habitual cavity-nester, laying plain-colored eggs. And it has been observed using its stout bill as a climbing aid in the manner of a parrot. 

An Amami Jay photographed during a FONT Japan Tour

Turdus celaenops

The Izu Thrush breeds only on the Izu Islands, in the Pacific Ocean far offshore from Honshu, south of Tokyo. It is a winter visitor to the island of Oshima, and it has been found to be a rare winter visitor to southern Honshu. 


Phylioscopus ijimae

The Ijima's Warbler breeds on the Izu Islands, southeast of mainland Japan, between Oshima and Aogashima, where it is present from April to September.
Migrants occur on Honshu and Kyushu, but the species has only rarely been encountered away from its breeding area.
It has a small and fragmented population, and is declining.

(formerly Zosterops) familare

The Bonin White-eye, or Bonin Honeyeater is an attractive little bird restricted only to the Ogasawara Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, offshore from Honshu, south of Tokyo.
Since it was described by an ornithologist named Kittlitz in 1831, there have been two known subspecies, one of which is now presumed extinct, the nominate A. f. familare. It was on the islands of Mukojima and Chichijima.
The remaining subspecies, Apalapteron familare hahasima survives only on Haha Island.     

A bird named after Kittlitz, is one of three species of the Ogasawara Islands, also described in the mid 1800s, that are now extinct: the Kittlitz's Thrush, Bonin Woodpigeon, and Bonin Grosbeak.  

For an itinerary of an upcoming FONT tour for the Bonin White-eye, or Honeyeater, and other special birds, go to:


Megalurus p. pryeri

(during FONT spring tours)

The Marsh Grassbird is known to breed at 6 locations on the main Japanese island of Honshu. It probably also breeds in Heilongjiang and Liaoning in China and at Lake Khanka in Siberia. 
It is said to winter in southern Japan, and in the Yangtze basin in China. The population in Japan is estimated to be about 1,000 birds.


Emberiza sulphurata

Honshu, including Hegura Island 
(during FONT spring tours) 
(during 1 FONT winter tour)

The Yellow Bunting breeds only in Japan. It is thought to winter mainly in the Philippines, although may winter in far-southern Japan (Nansei Shoto) and in Taiwan. It is generally uncommon in its restricted breeding range in Japan, and it believed to have declined significantly in the 20th Century.

Species in Japan classified as NEAR-THREATENED:


Syrmaticus soemmerringi

(during FONT spring & winter tours)  
(during FONT spring & winter tours)

The Copper Pheasant is found on the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, in coniferous, broadleaved, and mixed forests. There are 6 subspecies. It was once quite common, but has declined substantially (due to, among other things, hunting), and is now considered uncommon and difficult to find. 

Copper Pheasant,
found during FONT Japanese birding tours,
in the spring & winter on Honshu and Kyushu.


Anas falcata

(during FONT winter tours) 
(during FONT spring & winter tours)
(during FONT winter tours)

A Falcated Duck photographed during a FONT tour in Japan


Aythya nyroca

The range and status of the Ferruginous Duck may fluctuate considerably from year to year, and particularly so in Asia. Thus, it can be difficult to correctly estimate the global population or the trends for the species.

There have marked decline of the Ferruginous Duck recently in Europe, of more than 20 per cent in 8 countries, but the evidence of decline in the larger Asian population is not clear. 
So, the species is currently listed as being in the "near-threatened" category. Evidence of a further, or a rapid decline in Asia would qualify it for uplisting to "vulnerable".

The Ferruginous Duck is a vagrant in the winter in Japan.

Phoebastria immutabilis

pelagically, off Honshu (during FONT pelagic ferry trips in spring & winter tours)

Laysan Albatross
(photo by Cameron Rutt)


Oceanodroma monorhis

pelagically, off the Nansei Shoto islands of southern Japan (during a FONT pelagic ferry trip in the spring)  

Haliaetus albicilla

(FONT spring & winter tours) 
(during FONT winter tours) 

The White-tailed Eagle occurs from Greenland & Iceland east across Eurasia to eastern Siberia and Japan. The population has been estimated as between 5,000 and 7,000 pairs, but the size of the Russian population is poorly known. 
In the western portion of the range, in Europe, during the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century, numbers declined dramatically.

An adult White-tailed Eagle in Hokkaido
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour)

Limnodromus semipalmatus

The Asian Dowitcher is a rare breeder locally in Mongolia, northeastern China, and nearby Russia. It is a rare migrant in Japan.  

Columba j. janthina

Honshu (on Hegura Island) 
(during FONT spring tours)   
(during FONT spring & winter tours)  
(during FONT spring & winter tours)

The Black Wood Pigeon is an uncommon, local, and declining resident in Japan, occurring on small islands off southern Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, and south through the Nansei Shoto islands to the Yaeyama islands. Also in Japan, it occurs south through the Izu Islands to the Ogasawara and Iwo Islands. 
Outside Japan, it occurs locally on small islands off the south coast of South Korea (birds seen during FONT tours on Hegura Island in the Sea of Japan, in the spring, were probably of that population). 

The species inhabits dense subtropical forest and warm temperate evergreen broadleaf forest, with a strong dependency on mature forest. It has declined in Okinawa during and since the 1980's due to forestry activities. The subspecies C. j. nitens (which formerly occurred on the Ogasawara and Iwo Islands) is now thought to be extinct.

Brachyramphus perdix

(during FONT winter tours)
pelagically off Honshu
(during a FONT winter tour)

(formerly Sphenurus) riukiuensis
When it was considered conspecific with what is now the Taiwan Green Pigeon, it was called the Whistling Green Pigeon. when it also was rather inappropriately called the Red-capped Green Pigeon

Amami, Okinawa 
(during FONT spring & winter tours) 

The Ryukyu Green Pigeon is considered a small-island specialist. It nests only on the Nansei Shoto islands of Japan.   

A Ryukyu Green Pigeon on the island of Amami
(photographed during a FONT Japan Tour) 

Otus e. elegans  (the other subspecies are on islands off Taiwan and the Philippines)

Has previously been considered as part of the Celebes (or Sulawesi) Scops Owl; prior to that as part of Oriental Scops Owl.

Amami, Okinawa  (during FONT spring & winter tours on both islands)   
The Elegant Scops Owl occurs, as a resident, on the Nansei Shoto islands of southern Japan, on Lanyu Island off the southeast Taiwan, and on the Batanes and Babuyan islands off northern Luzon, in the Philippines. 
It inhabits subtropical evergreen forest, and locally in and near villages. It is common wherever suitable habitat remains in the Nansei Shoto, where there seems to be a good population. 

Bombycilla japonica 

(during FONT spring & winter tours)  
Honshu, including Hegura Island
(during FONT spring tours)  
(during FONT winter tours)  
(during 1 FONT winter tour)

The Japanese Waxwing breeds only in eastern Siberia, in coniferous forests of eastern Yakutia, Khabarovsk, and Amur. It is a non-breeding visitor in Japan, where it is uncommon and sporadic. It also winters in South Korea, where it is irregular and uncommon, and in mainland China. Given its limited breeding range, the total population must be small.    

Terosiphone atrocaudata

Honshu (on Hegura Island) 
(during FONT spring tours) 
(during FONT spring tours)  
(during FONT spring & summer tours) 
(during FONT spring & summer tours) 

The Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is a striking bird breeds in Japan in humid forests of southern Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and the Nansei Shoto islands. It also nests in South Korea and Taiwan. 
The bird winters, to the south, in the Philippines, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but no where commonly. 
A recent survey has detected a steep decline in part of the Japanese nesting population, possibly due to forest loss and degradation in the wintering range.

Emberiza y. yessoensis

(during FONT spring tours; and occasionally during FONT winter tours)

The Japanese Reed Bunting breeds in wetlands with tall grass in Japan on Honshu and Kyushu. It formerly did so on Hokkaido. Outside Japan, breeding is only in extreme south-east Siberia and north-east China. 
Wintering is in South Korea and along the coast of eastern China. 
The bird is considered uncommon or rare in all parts of its range. It is presumably declining due to loss and degradation of wetland habitat in its breeding range.  

A singing Japanese Reed Bunting
(Photo by Paul West during FONT Japan Spring Birding Tour)


Aix galericulata

(during FONT spring tours)  
Honshu (during FONT spring & winter tours)  
(during FONT winter tours)  
(during 1 FONT winter tour)

A pair of Mandarin Ducks photographed during a FONT tour in Japan
(photo by Bill Leaning)

written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour. 

On the southernmost Japanese island that we visited, Kyushu, there was the other notable species of waterfowl of our tour. Along a particular river there, we saw, and yes - we enjoyed seeing, the Mandarin Ducks
Adjectives already used in this narrative, relating to waterfowl, can be used again pertaining to the Mandarin: "brilliantly beautiful; boldly and colorfully patterned; and exquisite".

"Mandarin", itself, is from the Sanskrit word "mantrin", meaning "counselor". In the mid-1500's, that word was applied to Chinese officials, as a term used by foreigners to describe the handsomely attired senior officers of the Chinese government.

The duck, itself, is truly of the "Far East". Its native range is only in easternmost Asia: in not just China, but further north, breeding in the Russian Ussurland and Kuril Islands, and in northern Japan. 

The Mandarin Duck has been known as the "pearl of Manchuria". In Russia, it's known as "Manadarinka". It's called "Yuen Yang" in Chinese, while in Japanese it's called "Oshidori".

In Japanese art, as early as the 8th Century, the Mandarins were depicted, as they have been since on screen paintings, showing faithful males and females together.

While the Japanese, or Red-crowned, Crane in Japan symbolizes happiness and longevity, the Mandarin in Japan represents the enduring qualities of loyalty and fidelity. The Mandarin drake and hen have been believed to be strongly monogamous.

In China, nowadays, very few Mandarin Ducks are to be found in the winter. But, that's not the case in southern Japan, and particularly on Kyushu. 

A few years ago I found that during the winter along the particular river, referred to above, in southeastern Kyushu, there were a least a couple thousand Mandarin Ducks, along the upper reaches of that river in the wooded hills. The species was the prevalent, and, at some places, the only species of duck along that stretch of the river. And I found that those Mandarin Ducks were about as "wild" as ducks could be. The small groups of ducks, along that river, would immediately fly away, as people got out of a vehicle, on the road at a long distance from the ducks that were either swimming on the river or tucked on and under the branches by its edge. It happened every time, and the birds give would their distinctive calls as they flew. 

These were not birds such as those in city parks. We used to visit the Mejii Shrine in Tokyo to see the  Mandarins there at a pond in the park. 
But seeing the "wilder Mandarins", in large numbers, along the Kyushu river, has been so much more of an experience.

Those ducks in Kyushu may come each winter from the wilder areas of mainland Asia - in Ussurland, or from those northerly Kuril Islands. Or, maybe, they come from northern Japan. Wherever, they come from, there are many.

A census of Mandarin Ducks wintering in Japan in 1992 tallied a total of about 20,000 birds. The figures from that annual census in 1995 give the number of wintering Mandarins in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Kyushu as 796 birds.

The Kyushu river we've visited for the Mandarins is in that Miyazaki Prefecture. (A Japanese prefecture is rather like a US state.)
But the 800 or so birds just given for the entire prefecture must be a low figure, as along that one river, during one afternoon, during one of our winter tours in the mid-2000s, we counted at least as many as 2,000 Mandarin Ducks - and that was without doing, in any way, what would be a proper census.

It was wonderful to see Mandarin Ducks, along that Kyushu river, again, during our January 2008 tour! 
We didn't tally as many as 2,000, but we saw quite a few. Due to some construction along the riverside road, that would have caused us a significant delay, we didn't go as far upriver as we normally have.

Charadrius placidus

(during FONT spring & winter tours)  
Kyushu  (during FONT spring & winter tours)
(during FONT winter tours)

Vanellus cinereus

(during FONT spring & winter tours)  
(during FONT winter tours) 
(during FONT winter tours)  

Erithacus komadori  

(during FONT spring & winter tours) 
(during FONT spring & winter tours) 

The Ryukyu Robin is endemic to the Nansei Shoto islands of southern Japan. There are two subspecies:
E. k. komadori nests on the northern Ryukyu Islands and winters to the southern Ryukyus.
E. k. namiyei is thought to be a resident on Okinawa.
Some birds from the central Nansei Shoto apparently migrate as far north as southern Kyushu, with others as far south as the Yaeyama Islands (closer to Taiwan than to Okinawa).


The Ryukyu Rob0in

Sturnus sericeus

Kyushu, Okinawa  (during 2 FONT winter tours, a vagrant in Japan, normally in China)

Criteria for the above Bird Classifications:

CRITICALLY THREATENED: Faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. With a rapid decline (80% over 10 years), or a very small population (of under 250 mature birds).

ENDANGERED: Not critical, but still with a very high risk of extinction in the wild. With a rapid decline (50% over 10 years), and a small population (of 2,500 mature birds).

VULNERABLE: Not critical or endangered, but still with a high risk of extinction in the wild. With a decline (50% over 20 years), and a small population (of 10,000 mature birds).

NEAR-THREATENED: Close to qualifying for any of the above threatened categories. 

Among References:

"Threatened Birds of the World" (a Birdlife International publication), Lynx Edicions, 2000, and additional information since then on the internet.