CONSERVATIONISTS have embarked on a mission to save one of the worlds rarest birds, the spoon-billed sandpiper, from extinction. Fewer than 200 pairs of spoon-billed sandpipers were thought to exist in 2009, and since then, the population has thought to have declined by a quarter each year. So a specialist team of bird experts are flying to the sandpipers home in northeast Russia to collect and incubate eggs and set up a captive breeding population. The captive population of spoon-billed sandpipers will be housed in Moscow Zoo for quarantine purposes, then moved to a specially built unit at the headquarters of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, UK. The emergency mission is being undertaken by the WWT and Birds Russia, working with colleagues from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), BirdLife International, ArcCona, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force and Moscow Zoo. Experts fear that, without intervention, the spoon-billed sandpiper could be extinct within ten years. The count of 200 pairs in 2009 is an upper estimate and there may have been as few as 120 pairs at that time. Surveys since suggest that the counted population is falling by 26% a year, with juveniles having a particularly low rate of survival. Spoon-billed sandpipers (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) are a small Arctic wading bird, sporting a bill shaped like a spoon. This adaptation, entirely unique to its family, makes it one of the most weird and wonderful bird species on the planet, says Dr Geoff Hilton, Head of Species Research at the WWT. The BTOs shorebird expert, Dr Nigel Clark, agrees: There is only one wader that eats with a spoon and we need to try everything we can to save it from extinction. The bird divides its time between northeast Russia and the Bay of Bay of Martaban, Myanmar (Burma) and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. Travelling between, they migrate over 8,000km on a journey that may pass through Japan, North Korea. BBC