Superflock of Endangered Birds Spotted in Turkey

The Sociable Lapwing, a species that lives in the Middle East and Central Asia, was listed as a critically endangered species. Scientists believed as few as 400 of the birds survived. Now, a superflock of 3,000 has been spotted in Turkey. Andrea Seabrook talks to Guven Eken, director of the Turkish Nature Association.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

And now to a species that was listed as critically endangered - the Sociable Lapwing. These birds breed in Kazakhstan and are known to stop over in Turkey on their migration to Syria. Just five years ago, their population was estimated to be around 400 total. But scientists were pleasantly surprised by a recent sighting.

We have Guven Eken on the phone. He's director of the Turkish Nature Association.

And, sir, just first tell us what these birds look like.

Mr. GUVEN EKEN (Director, Turkish Nature Association): Well, I mean, they're like many other shore birds. Lapwing is a quite large spread species, so their relatives the common lapwings. But they adapted down south to inland steps of Kazakhstan and they are known to migrate toward south. But because the bird has become so endangered, British scientists together with Kazakhstan government have put satellite tags. We have heard news from the U.K. saying that one bird that is satellite tagged is in Turkey.

SEABROOK: How many did the scientists find?

Mr. EKEN: Well, I mean, we counted 3,200 individuals. And since 1890s, so far more than hundred years, and nobody has ever seen such a big group of this species.

SEABROOK: Now, how could scientists have missed a flock this big when they were counting?

Mr. EKEN: Yeah. That's a good question, but it's actually not that easy to count this bird during the breeding season because they are more dispersed when they breed. So scientists are thinking that the birds are critically endangered and they went through a decline. That is still true because their habitat, these typical habitats are the most threatened - it belong to the most threatened habitats in the worlds, and many other reasons like irrigation or using of pesticides are thought to be the major threats.

SEABROOK: So do we think that their populations are growing or do we just missed them before?

Mr. EKEN: We missed them before. Again, in Turkey, not as bad as Kazakhstan, but there are few scientists looking at birds, especially in the remote parts of the country. So with that news seen through the satellite tagging system found in Turkey, we could go to the area to find a few birds but we found thousands of others - friends of that individual - which was, obviously, a very good news.

SEABROOK: Just a question - are they called sociable lapwings in Turkish?

Mr. EKEN: No, they're not. In Turkish, they have a little different name after the little stripe behind the eyes of adults. They called them (Turkish spoken), and they are really little known in Turkey because they spend only a couple of months in our territory. But still because they stop over for - in very large numbers, Turkey seems to be a very important country for the survival of these rare birds.

SEABROOK: Guven Eken is the director of the Turkish Nature Association. He joined me from Istanbul on the phone.

Thank you very much, sir.

Mr. EKEN: Thank you. You're most welcome.

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