More of world's birds threatened with extinction

Posted: 14 May 2009

The latest evaluation of the world's birds reveals that more species than ever are threatened with extinction. BirdLife International, which conducted the research for the IUCN Red List, found 1,227 species (12 per cent) are classified as globally threatened with extinction. The good news is that when conservation action is put in place, species can be saved.

The IUCN Red List now lists 192 species of birds as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category, a total of two more than in the 2008 update.

Gorgeted Puffleg
Gorgeted Puffleg
The Gorgeted Puffleg is a recently described species of hummingbird from Colombia and has been classified as Critically Endangered. Photo © Alex Cortes
"It is extremely worrying that the number of Critically Endangered birds on the IUCN Red List continues to increase, despite successful conservation initiatives around the world," says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

A recently discovered species from Colombia, the Gorgeted Puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae), appears for the first time on the IUCN Red List, classified as Critically Endangered. The puffleg, a flamboyantly coloured hummingbird, only has 1,200 hectares of habitat remaining in the cloud forests of the Pinche mountain range in south-west Colombia and eight per cent of this is being damaged every year to grow coca.

The Sidamo Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis), from the Liben Plain of Ethiopia, has been moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered and is in danger of becoming mainland Africa's first bird extinction due to changes in land use. And coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, one of the Galapagos finches, the Medium Tree-finch (Camarhynchus pauper) also becomes Critically Endangered, partly as a result of an introduced parasitic fly.

Success stories

"In global terms, things continue to get worse - but there are some real conservation success stories this year to give us hope and point the way forward," says Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife's Director of Science and Policy.

It's not only rare birds that are becoming rarer; common birds are becoming less common. In eastern North America, the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) is fast disappearing from the skies. Following continent-wide declines of nearly 30 per cent in the last decade alone, this common species has been moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened.

"Across Africa, widespread birds of prey are also disappearing at an alarming rate, and emblematic species such as Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) and Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) have been placed in a higher category of threat as a result," says Jez Bird, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Officer. "These declines are mirrored in many species, in every continent."

Invasive species

A pair of Lear's Macaws
A pair of Lear's Macaws
A pair of Lear's Macaws: a great example of a conservation success story. Photo © Andy and Gill Swash / www.worldwildlifeimages.com
But it's not all doom and gloom. In New Zealand, the Chatham Petrel (Pterodroma axillaris) has benefited from work by the New Zealand Department of Conservation and has consequently been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. In Mauritius, the stunning Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra) has been rescued from the brink of extinction after the translocation and establishment of a new population on a predator-free offshore island. It is now classified as Endangered, rather than Critically Endangered.

Similar work is now also underway for 32 Critically Endangered species as part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

"Both the petrel and fody have suffered from introduced invasive species, and tackling these is one of the 10 key actions needed to prevent further bird extinctions that BirdLife has identified," says Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. "But to achieve this goal, more resources are needed. What the changes in this year's IUCN Red List tell us is that we can still turn things around for these species. There just has to be the will to act."

BirdLife is the Red List Authority for birds for the IUCN Red List. IUCN Red List categories include: Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild), Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild), Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), Near Threatened (close to qualifying for Vulnerable) and Least Concern (species not qualifying for the other categories, including widespread and abundant species). Species are assigned to categories using criteria with quantitative thresholds for population size, population trend, range size and other parameters. For more information visit: www.iucnredlist.org

To find out more about the 10 key actions needed to prevent further bird extinctions that BirdLife has identified, visit www.birdlife.org