Europe and Central Asia
22 May 2017

Hot off the Press! ‘European Birds of Conservation Concern’

By Gui-Xi Young

BirdLife unveils its latest publication, ‘European Birds of Conservation Concern’, in Parma Italy. This essential handbook will help every country in Europe to identify their bird conservation responsibilities. 


‘Birds know no borders’ – this oft-cited observation is especially pertinent in Europe, writes Dr. Ian Burfield and Anna Staneva in their introduction to BirdLife International’s latest publication ‘European Birds of Conservation Concern’. On a continent comprised of some 50, mostly small, countries and territories, that is home to around 540 wild bird species, it can be exceptionally challenging to identify which countries should take on most responsibility for conserving individual species.

But this is critical information needed by national governments if conservationists are to stand a chance of effectively tackling continent-wide biodiversity loss in the face of (often) limited local resources. Matters are simplified when a species is endemic to a particular country; the tiny island of Cyprus, for example, holds the entire global population of Cyprus Warbler. Yet, such cases are fairly rare. In comparison to other fauna, many European bird species are relatively widespread across the continent, due to their migratory behaviour and the distribution of habitats

The consequences of this are disquieting. Though there is excellent legislation in place to provide general protection to all wild bird species in Europe, the knowledge gap at national level risks that no particular country or authority takes responsibility for prioritising the increasing number of SPECs (Species of European Conservation Concern) that have been Red Listed as ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Near Threatened’ or ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN.

This publication aims to fill this gap. By presenting key bird population data, country by country, ‘European Birds of Conservation Concern’ will serve as an essential ‘go to’ handbook for every European country to clearly identify their conservation responsibilities and how to best allocate their resources for nature conservation.


Cyprus Warbler Ⓒ Daniele Occhiato


Pressing National Priorities

At the book launch in Parma on 20 May, Claudio Celada, Nature Conservation Director for LIPU/BirdLife Italy remarked that ‘some pressing national priorities’ clearly emerge from the publication. For example, he highlights that five globally threatened species are still hunted in Italy, including the Rock Partridge; this is particularly alarming since Italy hosts a quarter of its global population. Similarly, Iceland is hugely important for several globally threatened seabirds and waders, holding between 45–80% of the European breeding populations of Leach's Storm-petrel, Atlantic Puffin and Razorbill.


Atlantic Puffin Ⓒ Michael Finn

Going the Distance

The message that we need to protect bird species across their entire range distribution is also delivered loud and clear. While Hungary is evidently the European stronghold for the Saker Falcon, with 55% of the European breeding population, efforts to conserve the globally Endangered raptor also need to support smaller yet substantial populations in Slovakia (7%), Serbia (6%) and Austria (5%) as well as the Czech Republic and Moldova.


Saker Falcon Bohuš Číčel

Small Countries, Big Responsibilities

Some countries have big responsibilities on their shoulders. The Faroe Islands are a Danish territory comprised of 18 rocky islands in the North-East Atlantic, covering a mere 1,396 km2 (~0.01% of Europe). Yet despite their small size and relative isolation, the Faroe Islands are very important for seabird breeding colonies, holding 10% of Europe’s Atlantic Puffin population. Similarly, Azerbaijan has a land area of only 86,600 km2, but it is nonetheless critical for wintering waterbirds, holding 70-90% of the European wintering population of the globally Vulnerable Marbled Teal, the Endangered Lesser White-fronted Goose and White-headed Duck and the Depleted Ruddy Shelduck.


Lesser White-fronted Goose  Jari-Peltomäki


Biodiversity Hotspots

The country-by-country approach taken by ‘European Birds of Conservation Concern’ also helps to highlight our continent’s biodiversity hotspots. Georgia, for example, only covers 0.6% of Europe but holds a treasure trove of biodiversity – including most of the global population of the regionally endemic Caucasian Grouse – thanks to its geographical position and the variety of climates and landscapes.

Meanwhile, Spain is shown to be a bird lover’s paradise. This country is exceptionally important for SPECs with many endemic species occurring on the Canary and Balearic Islands: Europe’s rarest passerine, the Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch and Europe’s most threatened seabird, the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater. The mainland is no less special, holding virtually the entire global populations of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Iberian Green Woodpecker and serving as the most critical country for vultures in Europe.


Balearic-Shearwater Ⓒ Ricardo Guerreiro


‘European Birds of Conservation Concern’, a BirdLife International Publication, was compiled by Anna Staneva (Species Conservation Officer, BLI) and Dr. Ian Burfield (Global Science Coordinator, BLI).

Most of the data presented in this publication is already in the public domain, notably in the BirdLife International’s species factsheets and in supplementary material published online as an output of the recent European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015).

The publication is now available online

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.

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. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.