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Europe and Central Asia
11 Sep 2015

EU adopts BirdLife's classification standard in its updated list of European birds

The Canary Islands Chiffchaff is one of the 'new' species to be added to the 2015 updated official list of EU birds. Photo: Orientalizing/Flickr
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

The official list of birds in the European Union is an important document: it ‘legally’ defines all the bird species that occur naturally in the wild in the EU for the purposes of the Nature Directives, which include protection measures for birds.

Despite this, the list was last updated in 1999. The 2015 update, which has just been published on the European Commission website, is therefore obviously a much more comprehensive and current classification of European birds.

The new list is made up of 472 native species, 304 vagrant species (don’t occur regularly or predictably in the EU), 13 pre-1950 Category B species (species recorded in an apparently wild state only before 1950, some of which are now globally extinct) and 32 ‘introduced’ species (those that were released or have escaped and have established a self-supporting breeding population). This brings the total count to 821, up from about 700 in 1999.

Here’s why the 2015 list is so vital:

It now shares taxonomy with BirdLife’s own list

The taxonomy (science of classifying and naming species) used as the new standard is the Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International checklist (Volume 1, Non-passerines, was published in 2014 and Volume 2, Passerines, will be published in 2016).

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Many different global, regional, national, site and family taxonomic checklists already exist, but they are all different to some extent. To establish clear conservation priorities (for example, identifying globally and regionally threatened bird species, Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)), a global standard is needed.

BirdLife and HBW’s classification system has already been adopted by the CMS (United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals) in 2014, and the IUCN Red List also follows the same system for birds. Its adoption by the EU further strengthens its relevance to policy and conservation.

It now includes ‘new’ species and migratory status

The 2015 version also takes into account new Member States and their indigenous species (for example, the Cyprus Warbler and Cyprus Wheatear were added as Cyprus joined the EU in 2004), changes in the distribution of species (either due to habitat change, climate change or other reasons) and updates in classification.

A number of European seabirds and island endemic birds, for example, have been ‘split’ since 1999 and are now recognised as species in their own right (for example, the Canary Islands and Iberian Chiffchaffs are now separate from the Common Chiffchaff, and the Yelkouan Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater are now recognised as two different species).

The updated list gives for the first time an indication of whether a species is considered migratory or not. This is important as it will help ensure these birds benefit from the appropriate level of protection under the Birds Directive.

It will be used to implement Directives on legal action to protect the environment

Apart from the implementation of the Birds Directive, significantly this list will also be used for implementing the Environmental Crime Directive. The Environmental Crime Directive is a piece of EU legislation that makes sure that all forms of environmental crime, such as illegal killing of birds, are punishable by dissuasive proportionate and deterrent criminal penalties.

In practice, this means that if an inspector finds someone with birds in his possession, he can use the list to see if it is a protected species under the Birds Directive. If indeed this is a protected species, the possession of the birds can be prosecuted under criminal law, allowing the prosecutor to ask for prison sentences, which have been proven to be a very efficient tool in tackling bird crime.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.