1,221 and counting: More birds than ever face extinction
The latest evaluation of the world’s birds has revealed that more species than ever are threatened with extinction, and that additional conservation action is critical to reversing current declines.
BirdLife International’s annual Red List update –which takes into account population size, population trends and range size for all 10,000 bird species worldwide- states that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction and are to be listed as such on the 2007 IUCN Red List.
The latest update also shows an additional 812 bird species are now considered Near Threatened, adding up to a total of 2,033 species that are urgent priorities for conservation action.
The overall conservation status of the world’s birds has deteriorated steadily since 1988, when they were first comprehensively assessed. Now, more than a fifth (22%) of the planet’s birds is at increased risk of extinction.
The 2007 update has highlighted the deteriorating status of the world’s vultures: five more species have been ‘uplisted’ to higher categories of concern as a result of numerous threats. These include habitat loss, conversion and degradation (which remains the principal threat to all the world’s birds, impacting on 86% of Globally Threatened species), fewer feeding opportunities (as a result of declining wild ungulate populations on which to scavenge) and poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac – a factor behind rapid population declines in vultures across Asia in recent years.
Bird species restricted to oceanic islands continue to be among the world’s most threatened birds due mainly to the introduction of alien invasive species.
This year has seen St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae uplisted to Critically Endangered, having suffered considerably in recent years from habitat degradation due to a proliferation in invasive plants and predation from cats, another invasive species. Likewise, Po’o-uli Melamprosops phaeosoma (known only from the Hawaiian island of Maui), has also become categorised as ‘Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)’ after the death in captivity of the last known individual in 2004, and the failure to find any other individuals in the wild.
Another island-nesting species, Waved Albatross Diomedea irrorata (which breeds only in the Galapagos islands), has been categorised as Critically Endangered, as new evidence shows it is declining, primarily because of harvesting for human consumption, plus perhaps the expansion of commercial long-line fishing, in which birds attracted to bait are hooked and drown.
"Conservation works - we just need much more of it in order to turn back the tide of impending extinctions.” —Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator
While the number of bird species included on the Red List increases, there is cause for encouragement: where conservation actions are put in place, species have shown signs of recovery.
Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula eques, which survives in south-west Mauritius (having become extinct historically on Réunion) has been downlisted (to Endangered) due to a highly successful recovery programme that has included release of captive-bred birds, measures to control predators and the provision of artificial nest sites. The programme has been led by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, a conservation NGO that has worked closely with the Mauritian government.
Further good news is provided by Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata, downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable, after an increase from an estimated 1,000 pairs in the 1980s to some 10,000 pairs in 2006. The population increase is part of a long-term recovery largely in response to removal of pigs from its only breeding site, Inaccessible Island, Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, and has occurred despite losses to long-line fisheries.
Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator said of this year’s Red List update:
“There are two sides to this story: whilst conservation efforts have been successful in recovering some species, there are more and more species slipping towards extinction. The challenge becomes greater each year.”
“But where efforts, resources and political will are directed, species can recover. Conservation works,” he said. “We just need much more of it in order to turn back the tide of impending extinctions.”
The results of BirdLife’s Red List update will be incorporated into the 2007 IUCN Red List, released in September 2007.
BirdLife’s revisions to Red List categories, and the associated documentation, including factsheets for all the world’s 10,000 bird species, can be found on the BirdLife website: visit www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html