More than 740 newly recognized bird species were added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species today—including 13 species that were identified after they ceased to exist. All 13 have been declared extinct.
The list of extinct species includes the Bermuda towhee (Pipilo naufragus), Réunion fody (Foudia delloni), Raiatea starling (also known as the “mysterious bird of Ulieta,” Aplonis ulietensis), Oʻahu ʻakepa (Loxops wolstenholmei), Laysan honeycreeper (Himatione fraithii), Mangareva reed warbler (Acrocephalus astrolabii), Aguijan reed warbler (Acrocephalus nijoi), least vermillion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus dubius), Foster’s reed-warbler (Acrocephalus musae), Marianne white-eye (Zosterops semiflavus), Kauia Akialoa (Akialoa stejnegeri), Lanai Akialoa (Akialoa lanaiensis), and the Pagan reed warbler (Acrocephalus yamashinae).
According to the IUCN, all 13 of these lost bird species—most of which were previously thought to be subspecies—lived on islands and were likely wiped out by invasive species such as rats and cats. Most of them probably disappeared a long time ago and had never been adequately classified on the IUCN Red List until now. Several of the species, however, apparently disappeared within the past 50 years. The Pagan reed-warbler, for example, was last seen in the 1970s on the Mariana Archipelago island for which it is named. Another Mariana species, the Aguijan reed-warbler, disappeared some time prior to 1995.
None of these extinctions should come as a surprise, as details about them have been working their way through the scientific literature over the past few years. The Laysan honecreeper, for example, was finally declared a species by the American Ornithologists’ Union in 2015 after several decades of back-and-forth taxonomic revisions. This Hawaiian bird, one of the species previously thought considered to be a subspecies, probably went extinct early in the 20th century after introduced rabbits ate up all of Laysan Island’s vegetation and has been considered extinct for several decades. More recently, researchers declared the least vermillion flycatcher, also known as the San Cristóbal vermilion flycatcher, to be both a species and extinct this past June.
Still, the collective act of declaring 13 extinctions at once carries a powerful impact. It’s likely that they won’t be alone. The IUCN said that 11 percent of the 742 newly recognized bird species are threatened with extinction due to factors such as illegal trade, unsustainable agriculture, logging and invasive species.
All of this illustrates why it is vital to preserve even those animals we think may just be subspecies or local populations, says Loyal Mehrhoff, Endangered Species Recovery Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is important to save varieties and subspecies because in the future new science may show that they were actually full species that we should have tried harder to save,” he says.
This update to the IUCN Red List also includes several other pieces of bad news, many of which have been covered here in “Extinction Countdown.” The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) has been listed as vulnerable to extinction due to excessive poaching and habitat loss, while the African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), a victim of deforestation and the illegal pet trade, has been listed as endangered.
In addition, the Kalimantan mango (Mangifera casturi) has been listed as extinct in the wild. The rattan palm (Eremospatha barendi), only known from two sites in Cameroon, has been listed under the rarely used category of “Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).”
This isn’t all bleak news, however. Two species previously listed as extinct have been rediscovered. Meanwhile, several other species have seen their conservation status improve. This includes several island bird species, such as the Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina), St. Helena plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) and Seychelles white-eye (Zosterops modestus)—all proof that the world’s endangered species can be saved given enough time and support.
Previously in Extinction Countdown:
- Critically Endangered Purring Monkey and 1,900 Other Species Added to IUCN Red List
- 25 Possible New Extinctions: Hawaiian Plants, Madagascar Orchids, Chilean Water Frog
- Can You Guess Which Country Has the Most Endangered Species?
- Report: 100 Amazon Bird Species Are at Greater Risk of Extinction Due to Deforestation