Red List update: iconic raptors in peril worldwide


BirdLife International has revealed that iconic birds of prey such as Andean Condor, Secretarybird, Bateleur and Martial Eagle are now at high risk of extinction.

The findings come as part of the latest IUCN Red List update, which reveals a mixed picture for bird conservation across the globe – worrying declines come alongside a suite of success stories.

Andean Condor is the national bird of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, yet is now globally threatened with extinction. The emblematic species has had its threat level raised to Vulnerable in the 2020 Red List update, sparking fears that the crisis that brought many Asian and African vultures to the edge of extinction has spread to South America.

With its three-metre wingspan, Andean Condor is one of the world's largest flying birds, making an unmistakable silhouette as it soars above the Andes mountains at altitudes of up to 6,500 m. It is also one of the longest-lived bird species, with a natural lifespan of up to 70 years.

However, this majestic scavenger has seen rapid population declines in recent years due to persecution and poisoning. The bird is deliberately shot or targeted using poisoned bait in retaliation to extremely infrequent attacks on livestock. It is also impacted by illegal use in folkloric events and trade, and can die from ingesting lead shot left in carrion.

One of the world's pin-up birds, Andean Condor is nonetheless at increasing risk of extinction due to more and more incidents of persecution (Chris Darby).

Ian Davidson, Regional Director for BirdLife in the Americas, said: "The Andean Condor is built to last. But humans are ruining its natural 'live slow, die old' life strategy, causing high death rates from which it is hard to recover.

"This iconic raptor has been found in Andean folklore since 2,500 BC. To lose it now would be a tragedy for South American culture and ecosystems alike."

Thankfully, captive breeding, community education and habitat restoration programmes are underway across the condor's range. In 2014, Antisanilla Biological Reserve was set up in central Ecuador to safeguard one of the most important Andean Condor nesting sites. Researchers across the Americas are surveying and satellite-tracking wild populations to gain further insights into its movements. However, the species' reclassification as globally Vulnerable underlines the need to scale up conservation work, and collaborate with governments to strengthen anti-poisoning laws.


African savannah raptors in peril

Across Africa, work is underway to halt the catastrophic decline of vultures – but new information  reveals that other raptors of the savannahs are experiencing similarly alarming rates of decline.

Secretarybird, a striking species famed for its method of stomping on prey such as mice and snakes to kill them, is one of three species reclassified as Endangered and now considered to face a very high risk of extinction, along with Martial Eagle and Bateleur. Habitat loss and degradation, poisoning, poaching and disturbance are all likely factors in these declines, but more research is needed to identify the root causes and the most efficient way to address them.

One of the world's most beautiful raptors, Bateleur is declining rapidly due to habitat loss and degradation, disturbance and other factors (Martyn Sidwell).

Ian Burfield, BirdLife International's Global Science Co-ordinator commented: "While any species being listed as threatened is obviously bad news, it doesn't have to be a tragedy.

"For many, the road to recovery begins here, as listing brings visibility to their plight and helps to raise their conservation priority. The issues flagged by the Red List should form the focus of further research and action."


Red Kite recovery

Red Kite is a shining example of the benefits that such conservation action can bring. This graceful raptor was previously considered Near Threatened, owing to declines in its core European range due to poisoning from pesticides, persecution and land-use change. Legal protection under the EU Birds Directive led to an action plan and targeted conservation actions across its range, including large-scale reintroduction projects and community education. The success of these measures has seen it recover from earlier declines, and it continues to increase and expand, explaining its reclassification as Least Concern – the lowest category of extinction risk.

Now a very familiar sight across many parts of Britain, Red Kite is now considered Least Concern (Geoff Snowball).


Other winners and losers

While Red Kite has bounced back from a dark place, the same cannot be said for other Western Palearctic species. Dupont's Lark, an elusive bird of Iberia and North Africa, has been uplisted to Vulnerable for it is threatened by ongoing habitat loss and degradation resulting from development in Spain, reforestation in Tunisia, and increasing agricultural pressures in Morocco. Audouin's Gull, a species until 2019 classified as Least Concern, suffered a 31% decline in its Spanish breeding population between 2013 and 2017 and has been uplisted two categories to Vulnerable.

Indian wildlife comes under huge human-induced pressure, and two of its quintessential riverine birds  – Indian Skimmer and River Tern – have both been uplisted, to Endangered and Vulnerable respectively. However, Black-necked Crane is one of those Asian species downlisted on the 2020 list, with recent increases in its population driven by a reduction in adult mortality through a combination of winter habitat protection and creation.

Good news from the Americas is that the number of species downlisted far outweighs the number uplisted, with some of those considered in a position of improved conservation status including Peru's Long-whiskered Owlet and Yellow-eared Parrot of Colombia. However, Great Green Macaw and 'Lilicine Amazon' (considered a subspecies of Red-lored Amazon by the IOC) are both now considered Critically Endangered and are two of several very worrying trends noted in declining species in this region.

Relentless pressure on its riverine habitats has seen Indian Skimmer decline considerably, and it is now classified as Endangered (Lee Johnson).

BirdLife International is the world's largest nature conservation partnership, uniting over 100 national partners worldwide. As the official authority for birds for the IUCN Red List, BirdLife coordinates the process of evaluating all of the world's bird species against the Red List categories and criteria. Find out more at: www.birdlife.org

Find out more about the IUCN Red List 2020 update at www.iucnredlist.org.