You Might Not Want to Go There, but North Korea Is One of the World’s Last Havens for Birds

North Korea may be one of the world’s least tourist-friendly countries on Earth, but its strategic location along the avian East Asian Australasian Flyway and complete lack of development is preventing the extinction of several once plentiful species of migratory birds.

Around fifty million birds, from tiny song birds to cranes, journey across the East Asian Australasian Flyway every year, and eight million of them are shorebirds or waders. For many of these, North Korea’s west coast is the only stop for tens of thousands of miles, which means that without it, they would probably couldn’t finish their epic trip. But what makes this otherwise inhospitable place so important to birds?

A group of New Zealand bird watchers asked permission from the North Korean government to enter the country and observe the migratory birds. Armed with binoculars, powerful telescopes and cameras they counted the birds making their stop from the southern hemisphere all the way to the top of the northern one. “As we lose habitat elsewhere, the birds are going to get more and more pushed into remaining habitat, which by default means North Korea,” birder David Melville told the BBC. Because the shorelines of neighboring countries China and South Korea have witnessed rapid developments, with most of the mudflats having been converted to dry land for agriculture and industrial projects, the birds have virtually no place to stop and refuel.


Photo: Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre/Facebook

Shorebird ecology expert Richard Fuller of the University of Queensland, Australia, estimates that of the total Yellow Sea mudflat habitat that existed 50 years ago, only a third still remains today, and most of it is in North Korea. The lack of development in the communist country means that these mudflats are largely intact, and bird conservationists claim that migratory birds also benefit from the fact that there are few factories polluting the rivers and lower levels of agricultural pesticides flowing from the land into the marine environment. Thus the mudflats are rich in molluscs, marine worms and crustaceans, on which the birds depend for sustenance.

The East Asian Australasian Flyway’s largest shorebird, the Far Eastern curlew, has declined in number by over 80% in the last five decades, and without the mudflats of North Korea, they’d probably abandon the migratory route completely. They and other shorebirds spend about one month in the spring and three in the autumn gorging on invertebrates and building up strength for the return trip.


Photo: Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre/Facebook

But the virgin mudflats are especially important for a particular subspecies of the bar-tailed godwit, which only stops in North Korea and few other places around the Yellow Sea before completing an eight- or nine-day journey of about 12,000km in one go. It is the only bird in the world that can fly such a distance non-stop, and it can do it thanks to North Korea.

via BBC

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