Populations of common birds plunging

Posted: 3 October 2008

Author: Don Hinrichsen

Many species of common birds have experienced steep population declines over the past quarter century, according to a new report issued by an alliance of conservation groups. It finds that threats to bird populations are intensifying on all continents, including the Antarctic.

The report, State of the World's Birds, by BirdLife International, paints a bleak picture of the current state of the world's avian fauna. A startling 45 per cent of common European birds, for instance, are declining, including the familiar European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur), which has lost 62 per cent of its population over the past quarter century. The situation is similar on the other side of the planet: populations of resident Australian wading birds have dropped by 81 per cent over the same time period.

"Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world's biodiversity," pointed out Dr. Mike Rands, Chief Executive Officer of BirdLife International.

According to the report. The most serious causes of the precipitous decline in bird numbers is habitat loss due to industrial-scale agriculture, fishing, deforestation from rampant logging and replacement of pristine forests with monoculture plantations. Invasive species and disease are also taking a toll. But the most serious long-term threat faced by many species in decline is climate change, especially in the Arctic and Antarctic breeding areas, and the world's northern boreal forests.

Dying vultures

The report summarizes the threats:

  • 45 per cent of Europe's common birds in rapid decline
  • The populations of 20 of North America's most common species have dropped by half over the last 40 years
  • 81 per cent of Australia's wading bird populations have crashed over the past quarter century.
  • In Latin America, the common yellow cardinal is now globally endangered
  • In Asia, populations of white-rumped vultures have been decimated, reduced by 99.9 per cent in 16 years.
  • In the Middle East, the Eurasian eagle owl is vanishing from remnant forests.

"Effective biodiversity conservation is easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy," said Dr. Rands. To maintain a functioning protected area network in Africa, which would safeguard 90 per cent of the continents avian biodiversity would require no more than US$1 billion a year, but current investments are no more than US$300 million.

Don Hinrichsen is a Contributing Editor of this website

Related links:

Birdlife International: State of World's Birds

Climate change is speeding decline of world's birds

Mammals, birds and reptiles face extinction

Deadly decline of Europe's farmland birds