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Birds of Hong Kong
Although small in area, Hong Kong has more than 530 bird species, representing one third of total species recorded in the whole of China. This diversity is mainly attributable to our geographical location. Situated on the southern coast of China, Hong Kong is blessed with a sub-tropical monsoon climate, which nurtures a host of natural habitats like wetlands, woodlands, shrublands and coastal areas. Hong Kong is also a stopover point along the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, and many migrating birds pass through here on their way south – or they spend the winters here. Hong Kong is an ideal location for bird watching, as – in this one small territory – you can observe the varying forms and habits of birds in different sites at various times of the year.
The number of bird species found in Hong Kong is quite staggering. To make the study of avian habits easier, birds are classified by specific criteria. For example, we group species into forest birds (birds active mainly in forests), wetland birds (birds seen mainly in wetlands) and others according to their main habitats. Another method is to classify birds by their migratory habits, i.e. resident species, migrating species, passage migrants and occasional visitors. Birds in Hong Kong are broadly classified as follows.
1. Resident Species
Resident species are birds that normally live and breed in Hong Kong in their entire lives. About one-fifth of birds recorded in Hong Kong are residents. Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Oriental Magpie Robin, Eurasian Magpie and Red-whiskered Bulbul are popular to Hong Kong citizens as they can be commonly seen in urban areas. In rural areas, White-throated Kingfisher and Little Egret can be seen regularly in wetlands. The Cinereous Tit and Japanese White-eye are common in Hong Kong woodlands in all seasons.
2. Migrating Birds and Passage Migrants
The seasonal migration of birds is a behaviour prompted by environmental and climatic changes. As a general rule, birds living in frigid and temperate zones face the problem of unstable food supply due to the significant seasonal climatic changes in these regions. Before the onset of winter (when food is in short supply), they fly south to spend the season in the sub-tropics or tropics. In the following spring when the weather gets warmer, they return to the north to breed. By migrating, they are assured of adequate food and warm sunshine all year round. The migrating route of birds differs with species. Usually birds of the same species form migrating groups by instinct. Waterfowls have the longest flying route.
For migrating birds that fly several thousand kilometres annually, stopover sites where they can feed enroute are vital. These stopover sites, generally situated between their breeding and wintering sites along the flyway, offer essential feeding grounds – where they can stop for a short period to build up body reserve of fat and energy. The Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site is one such stopover site for migrating waders.
2.2 Summer Visitors
Summer visitors only account for a small portion of the Hong Kong birds. These species usually breed in Hong Kong and then fly south in winter. In the eastern waters of Hong Kong, the Bridled Tern and Black-naped Tern can be found breeding on some remote islands, while in woodland areas, Hainan Blue Flycatcher and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo are often heard and seen in summer. A limited number of waterfowls migrate to Hong Kong to breed in summer. One example is the Yellow Bittern, which breeds here between May and August.
2.3 Passage Migrants
Located midway in the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, each year Hong Kong is frequented by many passage migrants. Passing through Hong Kong in spring and autumn, these birds only stay for a short while before embarking on their long journey to the south/ north. These migratory species include raptors, waders and passerines such as Chinese Sparrowhawk, Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Brown Shrike.
3. Occasional Visitors
Some birds, with their natural range marginally touching Hong Kong, occur in Hong Kong occasionally. Examples are Black-winged Kite, Eastern Grass Owl and Eurasian Hoopoe. It takes some luck to spot one of these occasional visitors.
Among the birds recorded in Hong Kong, about 50 species are listed both in the Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and China Red Data Book. Among these species, some of them are seen in Mai Po and Deep Bay. Species such as Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saunders's Gull, Asian Dowitcher, Far Eastern Curlew, and Black-faced Spoonbill, stop over or winter in Hong Kong every year. Another two species listed as lower risk, i.e. Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and Chinese Grassbird, are uncommon passage migrant and resident respectively.
Some species, such as Crested Goshawk, Bonelli's Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Lesser Coucal, Greater Coucal, Emerald Dove and Pacific Reef Heron, have stable populations in Hong Kong. However, they are listed in the China Red Data Book as rare or vulnerable because of continuing exploitation or habitat loss in Mainland China.
Though not globally threatened, some freshwater wetland specialists, such as Greater Painted-snipe, Grey-headed Lapwing and Northern Lapwing, are regarded as locally concerned species due to their restricted distribution in Hong Kong.
All wild birds are protected in Hong Kong by the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170). Any person who willfully disturbs, takes, removes or injures wild birds, or their nests and eggs, is committing an offence – and is liable to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment of 1 year.
The import, export or possession of endangered species is strictly regulated by the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586), which gives effect to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
On 4 September 1995, the Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay area was listed as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention to conserve the large number of birds wintering at the site every year. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) is implementing a management plan for the conservation of the site. This includes the Ramsar Site ecological monitoring programme, which collects baseline information on ecological characters of the Ramsar Site annually for conservation and management purposes.
To enhance our understanding of the local avifauna, AFCD has been working with local specialist groups to carry out various studies on birds. In addition, we have also carried out studies on birds of conservation concern, such as White-bellied Sea Eagle, egrets, herons and terns. Results of these studies will enhance our knowledge about these species and facilitate the implementation of conservation measures. For example, suitable nest-boxes are provided for species breeding in Hong Kong, such as forests birds and terns.
Hong Kong's very varied physical environments and habitats support great avifauna diversity. Below are some major bird watching hotspots:
Carey, G.J., Chalmers, M.L., Diskin, D.A., Kennerley, P.R., Leader, P.J., Leven, M.R., Lewthwaite, R.W., Melville, D.S., Turnbull, M., and Young, L. (2001): The Avifauna of Hong Kong . Hong Kong Bird Watching Society. Hong Kong.
Lock N.Y., 2003 Appreciating Wild Birds. Friends of the Country Parks
Lock N.Y., Cheung K.S., 2004 Venturing Wetlands. Friends of the Country Parks.
Viney, C., Phillipps, K. and Lam, C.Y. 2006. Birds of Hong Kong and South China. Government Printer, Hong Kong.
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Last Review Date : 26 September 2018