Threatened species' rare appearance increases calls for protection

Updated 2018-03-30 15:12:01

A reed parrotbill

March is the one of the busiest times of the year for a teacher, but Wu Wen'an, a 40-something professor at a top university in Beijing, finds it difficult to fully concentrate as he tries to grade his students' papers since he is constantly plagued by worries over the fate of a lovely bird rarely seen in the city: the reed parrotbill.

The reed parrotbill (Paradoxornis heudei) is a bird species unique to China. Listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a "near-threatened" species, the birds are widely dubbed as "the panda among birds" due to their rarity and threatened habitat loss. Like pandas, which can only survive among bamboo forests, the reed parraotbill's survival is linked to a specific environment - reedbeds located mainly in Northeast China, the coastal areas of Jiangsu Province and the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

To the surprise of many birdwatchers, the rarely-seen birds have made frequent appearances in Beijing recently. According to a Beijing Youth Daily report from March 2, reed parrotbills were seen in the capital's Fangshan district for the first time ever, causing quite a buzz among the public. Actually, the birds had already been sighted flying along Beijing's Yongding River for months prior to the report, which led to taking photos of these lovely creatures becoming a favorite pastime for Wu and his friends.

"They were there the whole winter. Many amateur photographers have taken beautiful pictures of them and put them online," Wu said.

Curious creatures

A bird lover and amateur photographer, Wu first noticed the rare creatures while walking along a section of the Yongding River near his home in December 2017. Their unique appearance and nimble movements immediately caught his attention.

"They are very lovely creatures, shuttling swiftly in the reeds back and forth and making beautiful sounds," Wu said.

Attracted by the cute birds, Wu read up about them and often went to the riverside to take pictures over the next several months. The more he got to know them, the more he fell in love with them.

"A round head, thick bill and no neck" is often used to describe the cute and fleshy appearance of reed parrotbills. An adult bird can grow to 20 centimeters in length, while their eye-catching and disproportionately long tail makes them look as if they are wearing a swallow-tailed coat. For Wu though, it was this kind and curious nature that he found the most appealing.

"They are not afraid of humans so you can get as close as four to five meters to them," Wu said.

When Wu would stand close to the reeds to observe them, the witty birds would first fly away but then fly back to see what was happening, getting curious about what the man was doing near their home.

Zhang Yunbo, a specialist working for bird protection for years, confirms that this curiosity is part of the birds' nature.

"This has something to do with their genus Paradoxornis. Birds of this genus generally have a greater sense of curiosity than other birds, such as the vinous-throated parrotbill," Zhang said.

Calls for protection

However, pleasant days watching these beloved creatures didn't last long for Wu as workers came to remove the withered reeds that made up the birds' homes in the winter. Nearly all the reeds along the river were removed, leaving only a few small patches.

"They can only survive in the reeds, so once the reeds were cut they have nowhere to call home," Wu noted.

Seeing the number of the birds dramatically decrease, Wu and other local bird lovers began to worry about their new neighbors' survival. They chose to go to the neighborhood's local management office to try to save the birds' habitat.

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