Migrant birds in hot water!


Climate change is a major threat to migratory waterbirds, according to a new report by the British Trust for Ornithology and Wetlands International. Of 235 species of migratory waterbirds protected in Europe and Africa, all except one are experiencing some threat from climate change, and nine species face severe threats that could cause extinction. The nine particularly threatened species are Cape Gannet, Crowned Cormorant, Bank Cormorant, Slaty Egret, Northern Bald Ibis, White-winged Flufftail, Madagascar Pratincole, Slender-billed Curlew and Damara Tern.

Bald Ibis
Bald Ibis, Morocco (Photo: Robin Edwards)

Launched today in Madagascar at the 4th Meeting of the Parties of the African–Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the report highlights the need for more international co-operation in helping migratory species to cope with climate change and other environmental problems. Dr Andy Musgrove, Head of the Wetland Bird Survey at the BTO, said, "Climate change is of over-arching importance for the conservation of the planet's biodiversity. This is an extremely important and timely report, drawing together a huge amount of information that not only highlights threats but also suggests many practical ways in which we can help waterbirds across this huge region."

When animals migrate, they often traverse political boundaries that have no inherent meaning to them, but which dramatically influence them due to the great differences that exist between countries in conservation policy. International co-operation is required to reduce the many pressures that they face and the report shows that many of the existing threats these birds face are being compounded by the effects of climate change.

With warmer temperatures, many birds are finding their current living conditions increasingly unsuitable. Some are shifting their ranges towards cooler climates. The report also highlights that warmer temperatures are not the only risk that waterbirds face in Africa and Eurasia. Many regions, particularly in Africa, are predicted to become drier and consequently the wet habitats upon which waterbirds depend will dry up. This is a particularly pressing problem just north and south of the Sahara. Waterbirds must make the perilous journey across this vast arid expanse without stopping for food and water. If the wetlands either side of this desert dry up too, the journey is likely to be a wing-beat too far for the exhausted, hungry and thirsty birds.

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Sanderling, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk (Photo: Nigel Pye)

Examples of affected waterbirds found in the African–Eurasian region include species such as the Crowned Cormorant, which is confined to the extreme southern coast of Africa, needs land to nest on and is prevented from moving poleward by the presence of the sea. A similar situation exists for those species that breed in the high Arctic, such as the Sanderling. Dr Ilya Maclean, lead author of the report, said: "Although these species are at severe risk of extinction if temperatures increase too much, we can help them in other ways. Many of the species are also threatened by activities such as habitat loss and over-fishing. If we can minimize these other pressures, we increase the birds' ability to cope with climate change."

The Meeting of the Parties currently taking place in Madagascar brings together delegates from over 80 countries in Africa and Eurasia to discuss, among other pressing issues, urgent conservation responses needed to address the effect climate change is having on these species in this particular region.

Written by: BTO