Climate change is speeding decline of world's birds

Posted: 21 May 2008

Climate change is accelerating many of the factors which have put one in eight of the world's birds at risk of extinction, according to the 2008 IUCN Red List of threatened birds.

Long-term drought and sudden extreme weather are putting additional stress on the pockets of habitat that many threatened species depend on. This, coupled with extensive and expanding habitat destruction, has led to an increase in the rate of extinction on continents and away from islands, where most historical extinction has occurred.

The Red List makes grim reading with 1,226 species of bird now threatened, and eight species newly uplisted to Critically Endangered, the highest threat category.

Eurasian Curlew
Eurasian Curlew
More and more continental species, such as Eurasian Curlew are becoming threatened. Photo © BirdLife/ Ben Lascelles
Of the 26 species that changed category, 24 were uplisted to a higher level of threat. These include widespread continental species like Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) and Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata), both previously of Least Concern, and now regarded as Near Threatened.

Australian drought

"This latest update of the IUCN Red List shows that birds are under enormous pressure from climate change," says Jane Smart, Head of IUCN's Species Programme. "The IUCN Red List is the global standard when it comes to measuring species loss so we urge governments to take the information contained in it seriously and do their level best to protect the world's birds."

Australia's Mallee Emuwren
Australia's Mallee Emuwren
Years of drought have seriously affected the vegetation on which Australia's Mallee Emuwren relies. Photo: Rob Drummond, BirdLife.
In Australia, years of drought have affected the health of the vegetation on which Mallee Emuwren (Stipiturus mallee) relies. As a result the bird is undergoing very rapid population decline. Its habitat is now so fragmented that a single bushfire could be catastrophic. Already the emuwren is almost extinct in South Australia where the last significant population comprises 100 birds confined to 100 km².

In the Galápagos Islands, Floreana Mockingbird (Nesomimus trifasciatus) is confined to two islets off Floreana. Its population has declined from an estimated maximum of 150 individuals in 1966 to fewer than 60, and is now at risk from extreme weather events. As a result it has been uplisted to Critically Endangered.

In Papua New Guinea, deforestation caused by a rising demand for the cultivation of palm oil has led to species such as New Britain Goshawk (Accipiter princes) being uplisted to a higher threat category.

Good news

However, there is some good news. Two species whose situation has improved are Marquesan Imperial-pigeon (Ducula galeata) and Little Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx owenii), both the beneficiaries of conservation. Actions plans put in place have resulted in the downlisting of both species to lower threat categories.

"This goes to show not only that conservation action works but that it is vital if we are to prevent the extinction of these and other species," says Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. "Species are being hit by the double whammy of habitat loss and climate change. As populations become fragmented the effect of climate change can have an even greater impact, leading to an increased risk of local extinctions."

Note: To combat the ever increasing threat of extinction to so many species, BirdLife has launched the Preventing Extinctions Programme, the biggest and most wide-ranging bird conservation programme the world has ever seen. The Programme targets all 190 Critically Endangered birds on the 2008 IUCN Red List, by finding 'Species Champions' who will fund the work of nominated 'Species Guardians' for each bird - organisations and people best placed to carry out the conservation work necessary to prevent the loss of these species. See more information from Birdlife on threatened birds here