More bird species than ever face extinction, though conservation efforts are, in some cases, slowing the pace of the decline.
BirdLife International, a consortium of conservation groups, reports that 12 percent of the world's known 9,865 bird species are now considered threatened in the 2009 update of its Red List. Of those, 192, or 2 percent, are listed as “critically endangered,” meaning they face an "extremely high risk" of extinction in the wild. That’s an increase of two species over BirdLife’s count in 2008, and an increase of 10 since 2000.
Meanwhile, 362 species are listed as Endangered, meaning they face a "very high risk" of extinction in the wild. That's up from 321 species a decade ago. The biggest change in BirdLife's list comes in the near threatened category, which indicates species that may soon be at risk of extinction and has grown nearly 15 percent in ten years, from 730 in 2000 to 838 today.
Nine new bird species made the critically endangered list this year. One is Colombia's Gorgeted Puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae), whose 1,200 hectares of habitat is shrinking 8 percent a year, under pressure from coca farmers. Ethiopia's Sidamo Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis) has also lost much of its habitat, and may soon become Africa's first mainland bird to go extinct. And on the Galápagos Islands, the Medium Tree-finch (Camarhynchus pauper) has become critically endangered.
On the other hand, six species have recovered just enough to be downlisted from critically endangered to endangered. They include the Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia castaneiventris), Minas Gerais Tyrannulet (Phylloscartes roquetti), Kaempfer's Tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus kaempferi), Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra), Chatham Petrel (Pterodroma axillaris), and Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari).
According to BirdLife, common birds around the world are also becoming less common. In eastern North America, the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) has seen declines of nearly 30 percent in the last decade and is now listed as “near threatened.”
“These declines are mirrored in many species, in every continent,” Jez Bird, global species program officer for BirdLife in Cambridge, England, said in a statement.
There have been a few success stories. In Mauritius, the Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra), once nearly eaten into extinction by introduced predators like the black rat, has seen a growth in population after captive-rearing programs raised several dozen chicks on a nearby, predator-free island. The Fody is now classified as Endangered, rather than Critically Endangered, although its total population still remains lower than 300 individuals.
This year's Red List was compiled with the help of scientists and concerned citizens around the globe. "We had 78 category changes on the Red List this year," Bird tells Scientific American, "and over half of these were because of improved knowledge."
Much of the new information was contributed by “citizen scientists,” especially for poorly known species. “Contributions such as entering records into World Birds or submitting new information on species to the BirdLife Science team (e-mail: science @ birdlife.org) make an invaluable contribution to our priority setting," says Bird.
BirdLife's Red List will be incorporated into the broader IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which covers all known species, when the IUCN list is released later this year.
Image: Birds against the sun by Asif Akbar, via Stock.xchng