More birds than ever face extinction


Oriental White-backed Vulture (photo: RSPB).

The latest evaluation of the world's birds has revealed that more species than ever - 1,221 - 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. Habitat loss, conversion and degradation is the principal threat affecting 86 per cent of the world's globally-threatened birds.

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 are 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 because of numerous threats. These include habitat loss, fewer feeding opportunities, persecution and poisoning by the veterinary drug Diclofenac - a factor behind rapid population declines in vultures across southern 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.

The St Helena Plover, which occurs only on St Helena (a UK Overseas Territory), has been uplisted to Critically Endangered - the highest category of threat. This small wading bird has suffered considerably in recent years from a proliferation in invasive plants affecting its nesting and feeding habitat. This proliferation is linked to a reduction in the number of cattle within the bird's range on the island.

The Waved Albatross, which nests only in the Galapagos islands, has been categorised as Critically Endangered. New evidence shows it is declining, primarily because of the expansion of commercial long-line fishing, in which birds attracted to bait are hooked and drowned.

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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.

The Mauritius Parakeet, which survives in south-west Mauritius, 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 which has worked closely with the Mauritian government.

The Spectacled Petrel has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable, after an increase from an estimated 1,000 pairs in the 1980s to 38,000 pairs in 2004. The population increase is part of a long-term recovery largely in response to removal of pigs from its only breeding site: Inaccessible Island part of Tristan da Cunha, a UK overseas territory in the South Atlantic. Like many other seabirds, the spectacled petrel is still facing a significant threat from the long-line fishing industry.

Alistair Gammell, the RSPB's International Director, said: "Whilst conservation efforts have been successful in recovering some species, there are more and more species slipping towards extinction every year.

"But where efforts, resources and political will are applied, species can recover: conservation works. We just need much more of it to roll 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.

A total of 135 species are documented as having gone Extinct since 1500. A further four species are now Extinct in the Wild and survive only in captive populations. Fifteen species are categorised as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) because they are likely to have gone extinct too, but cannot be designated as such until we are certain. Thus, a total of 154 species may have been lost in the last 500 years.

Three species have gone Extinct or Extinct in the Wild already this century: Spix's Macaw (classified as Critically Endangered: Possibly Extinct in the Wild) in 2000; Hawaiian Crow (classified as Extinct in the Wild) in 2002; and Po'ouli (classified as Critically Endangered: Possibly Extinct) in 2004. Brazil and Indonesia support the highest numbers of Globally Threatened Birds, with 119 each.

Written by: RSPB and BirdLife International