Birds indicate biodiversity crisis – and the way forward
Common birds are in decline across the world, providing evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment that is affecting all life on earth – including human life. All the world’s governments have committed themselves to slowing or halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010. But reluctance to commit what are often trivial sums in terms of national budgets means that this target is almost certain to be missed.
These are some of the stark messages from State of the Worlds Birds, a new publication and website (birdlife.org/sowb) launched today at BirdLife International’s World Conference in Buenos Aires.
“Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world’s biodiversity”, said Dr Mike Rands - BirdLife's CEO.
“Many of these birds have been a familiar part of our everyday lives, and people who would not necessarily have noticed other environmental indicators have seen their numbers slipping away…” —Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife's CEO
The report highlights the decline of common Asian birds. “Thirty years ago, tens of millions of White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis were flying the skies of Asia. This species was probably the most abundant large bird of prey in the world: it is now Critically Endangered and on the very brink of extinction”, noted Dr Rands. Numbers have fallen by 99.9% since 1992 .
The story is the same for birds migrating between the Pacific and Asian regions. “Migratory shorebirds, and the wetland habitats they rely on for their annual journeys, are under threat all along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway”, warned Dr Rands. The populations of migrant shorebirds wintering in south-eastern Australia have plummeted by 79% over a 24 year period , and species such as the Endangered Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer are declining throughout their range . Sixty-two percent of migratory waterbird species in Asia are either declining or already extinct .
“Effective biodiversity conservation is easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy” —Dr Mike Rands
“Many of these birds have been a familiar part of our everyday lives, and people who would not necessarily have noticed other environmental indicators have seen their numbers slipping away, and are wondering why” said Dr Rands. “Because birds are found almost everywhere on earth, they can act as our eyes and ears, and what they are telling us is that the deterioration in biodiversity and the environment is accelerating, not slowing.”
State of the Worlds Birds identifies many key global threats, including the intensification of industrial-scale agriculture and fishing, the spread of invasive species, logging and the replacement of natural forest with monocultural plantations. However, Dr Rands warns: “In the long term, human-induced climate change may be the most serious stress of all”.
The encouraging news is that conservation works and is relatively cheap. Direct action saved 16 bird species from extinction between 1994 and 2004. But conserving biodiversity now urgently needs more financial support.
“The challenge is to harness international biodiversity commitments and ensure that concrete actions are taken — now!” —Dr Mike Rands
“Effective biodiversity conservation is easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy”, said Dr Rands. For example, to maintain the protected area network which would safeguard 90 percent of Africa’s biodiversity would cost less than $1 billion US dollars a year –yet in a typical year the global community provides around $300 million.“The world is failing in its 2010 pledge to achieve a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biodiversity”, said Dr Rands. “The challenge is to harness international biodiversity commitments and ensure that concrete actions are taken — now!”
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Additional notes for editors:
BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries and territories who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them.
State of the World's Birds examines what the best-known group of living things, birds, can tell us about the state of biodiversity, the pressures upon it and the solutions that are being, or should be, put in place. It is published every four years by BirdLife International. The 2008 theme is ‘Indicators of our changing world’.
This report is a brief summary of the information available on BirdLife’s State of the World’s Birds website. Using the most up-to date analyses, it outlines why birds and biodiversity are important, what we know about the changing state of the world’s birds, why birds are declining and what can be done to improve their status. It presents and lists a small sample of the case studies providing evidence for these messages and examples of BirdLife’s work.
For more detailed information visit BirdLife’s State of the World’s Birds website at birdlife.org/sowb
Click the following links to download the full report:
Rare birds are getting rarer
At present one in eight of the world’s birds – 1,226 species - are Globally Threatened according to the IUCN Red List. Of these, 190 face an imminent risk of extinction . “The threat of extinction is real. Over the last three centuries 153 bird species are believed to have been lost forever – three species have vanished since 2000 alone”, warned Dr Rands .
Birds help measure global progress towards biodiversity targets.
Globally agreed goals, such as the 2010 target to ‘achieve a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biodiversity’, require a global monitoring system. Birds are at the forefront of producing such a monitoring system because they are found everywhere and are well monitored compared to other groups.
The 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (2010 BIP) is a global initiative to further develop and promote indicators for the consistent monitoring and assessment of biodiversity. BirdLife International is one of over forty organisations working to support the regular delivery of the 2010 biodiversity target indicators at the global and national levels.
In 2007, the Red List Index, which was initially designed and tested by BirdLife, was selected to be the basis of a new Millennium Development Goal (MDG) indicator, known as the ‘Proportion of species threatened with extinction’. Through such processes, birds will continue to play a vital role in monitoring progress towards conserving biodiversity in the years to come .
Protecting Important Bird Areas really helps
Important Bird Areas (IBAs) form a worldwide network of sites for the conservation of birds. BirdLife and its Partners have identified over 10,000 IBAs to date. When complete, this global network is likely to cover some 10 million km2 (c.7% of the world’s land surface) identified on the basis of about 40% of the world’s bird species.
The effective conservation of these sites will contribute substantially to the protection of the world's biological diversity. While formal protection often remains the preferred option, other more innovative approaches can also be highly effective. These range from maximising the engagement of local communities to ensuring effective application of safeguard policies and Environmental Impact Assessment for development projects. In all cases a commitment to long-term engagement is the key to success .
Birds are important to people’s livelihoods
Conserving biodiversity and eliminating poverty are linked global challenges. The poor, particularly the rural poor, depend on nature for many elements of their livelihoods, including food, fuel, shelter and medicines. Working alongside people who will ultimately benefit from conservation can build social capital, improve accountability and reduce poverty. In contrast, excluding people from conservation actions can increase conflict, resentment and poverty.
Understanding how people experience poverty locally is essential in identifying how biodiversity conservation can help improve their livelihoods. BirdLife Partners have worked with communities to develop site-specific solutions to the problems they have identified. Examples include supporting agricultural development around Kabira National Park, Burundi, to help reduce pressure on the park’s land and resources, developing ecotourism to generate income at San Marcos, Bolivia, and improving management and marketing of non-timber forest products in Palas Valley, Pakistan.
BirdLife International Partners are increasingly engaging with diverse policy issues relevant to the conservation of biodiversity. Partners are tackling policy sectors that deal directly with biodiversity (such as forests, wildlife trade and the marine environment), but significantly they are also addressing policy sectors that have a major indirect impact, or cut across the other sectors (such as poverty reduction, conservation finance and tourism) .
More conservation funding is urgently needed
Global conservation investment still falls far short of what is needed. Conservation financing is rarely sustained and often not directed where it can do most good. The biggest shortfalls are in developing countries—often biodiversity rich but economically poor. Those who benefit from biodiversity as a global good must contribute more to looking after it. Effective biodiversity conservation is, in fact, easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy.
In 2005, the African protected area network received around US $300 million, less than 40% of the funding required for an expanded and effectively managed system. Making up the difference would go a long way to ensuring the conservation of 90% of the continent’s irreplaceable biodiversity—in global terms an absolute bargain. In Nigeria, for example, the annual appropriation for protected area management is a small fraction of the budgeted requirements, and what can actually be spent is even less .
BirdLife species factsheets - click for more information
- Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus (Endangered)
- Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus (Near Threatened)
- Evening Grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus
- Northern Pintail Anas acuta
- Boreal Chickadee Parus hudsonicus
- Flame-coloured Tanager Piranga bidentata
- Chestnut-capped Brush-finch Arremon brunneinucha
- Collared Trogon Trogon collaris
- Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata (Endangered)
- White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis (Critically Endangered)
- European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur
- Grey Partridge Perdix perdix
- Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra
- Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata (Vulnerable)
- Eurasian Eagle-owl Bubo bubo
- Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremita (Critically Endangered)
- Wilson's Phalarope Steganopus tricolor
- Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer (Endangered)
Links to case studies in text
Case studies mentioned in the text come from: State of the Worlds Birds website, BirdLife news stories, BirdLife Programme pages, BirdLife datazone factsheets, BirdLife Partner publications and BirdLife staff experience. To find out more, click the hyperlinks on the text below:
- A staggering 45% of common European birds are declining
- Resident Australian wading birds have seen population losses of 81% in just quarter of a century
- Twenty North American common birds have more than halved in number in the last four decades
- In Latin America, the Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata - once common in Argentina - is now classified as globally Endangered
- Millions of White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis recently flew in Asian skies. In just sixteen years populations have crashed by 99.9% - the species is now classified as Critically Endangered
Widespread birds like the Eurasian Eagle-owl Bubo bubo are believed to be vanishing from Middle Eastern forests (Personal communication: Richard Porter & Simon Aspinall).
- Seabirds - including Critically Endangered Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremita - are disappearing from the world’s oceans
- In just three decades, 11 eagle species declined by 86–98% in Burkina Faso and surrounding countries of Mali and Niger
- Afro-Palearctic migratory birds have suffered massive (40%) population declines over just three decades
- Common migratory species such as Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla, Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus and Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos are silently disappearing
- Other widespread species suffering significant declines include Evening Grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus (78%), Northern Pintail Anas acuta (77%) and Boreal Chickadee Parus hudsonica (73%)
- A staggering 57% of Neotropical migrants monitored at their breeding grounds have suffered from population declines over the last four decades
Migratory species such as the Wilson’s Phalarope Steganopus tricolor, Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla and Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes are silently disappearing (Personal communication: Otte Ottema & Rob Clay).
Bird monitoring in El Salvador reports that 25% of common resident species – including Flame-coloured Tanager Piranga bidentata, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch Arremon brunneinucha, and Collared Trogon Trogon collaris - have experienced significant declines within the last decade (Personal communication: Oliver Komar & Rob Clay).
- Formerly widespread species, such as the Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata, once common in Argentina, are now classified as Endangered” noted Dr Rands
- The populations of migrant shorebirds wintering in south-eastern Australia have plummeted by 79% over a 24 year period
- Species such as the Endangered Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer are declining throughout their range
- Sixty-two percent of migratory waterbird species in Asia are either declining or already extinct
Many common species such as Eurasian Eagle-owl are under great pressure and believed to be declining throughout the region (Personal communication: Richard Porter & Simon Aspinall).
- The global population of Houbara Bustard may have fallen by 35% in the past twenty years alone”, noted Dr Rands
- Resident Australian wading birds have seen population losses of 81% in just quarter of a century
- Presently, 19 of the 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction, including Critically Endangered Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremita which feeds throughout the South Pacific Ocean
- At present one in eight of the world’s birds – 1,226 species - are Globally Threatened according to the IUCN Red List. Of these, 190 face an imminent risk of extinction
- Over the last three centuries 153 bird species are believed to have been lost forever – three species have vanished since 2000 alone”, warned Dr Rands
- Birds help measure global progress towards biodiversity targets.
- Protecting Important Bird Areas really helps
- Birds are important to people’s livelihoods
- More conservation funding is urgently needed
The compilation and publication of the State of the World’s Birds report and website were generously supported by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation and the Darwin Initiative.
BirdLife wishes to acknowledge and thank its Founder Patrons for their support of the Science Programme that generated the report. Many of the data underlying the analyses of threatened birds and Important Bird Areas were provided by the BirdLife Partnership and a wider expert network who contribute to BirdLife’s Globally Threatened Bird Forums.