Phil Hansbro  /  BirdLife International
Pitt Island Shags, birds that nest only on New Zealand's Chatham islands, have seen their numbers fall in recent years, moving the species from "vulnerable" to "endangered" in the annual survey taken by BirdLife International. staff and news service reports
updated 6/1/2005 9:53:08 AM ET 2005-06-01T13:53:08

More than a fifth of the planet’s bird species face extinction as humans venture further into their habitats and introduce alien predators, a conservation group said on Wednesday.

While there have been some success stories of species that reappeared or recovered, the overall situation of the world’s birds is worsening, BirdLife International said in its annual assessment of the feathered fauna.

“The total number (of bird species) considered to be threatened with extinction is now 1,212, which when combined with the number of near threatened species gives a total of exactly 2,000 species in trouble — more than a fifth of the planet’s remaining 9,775 species,” BirdLife said.

The 1,212 figure is 10 more than last year's count, and several species from Europe appear in the list for the first time, including:

  • The European roller, for which key populations in Turkey and European Russia have declined markedly.
  • Krüper’s Nuthatch, a mainly Turkish species that has declined because of tourism development of its key habitats.
  • Red Kite, which has suffered large declines across Europe, despite a successful reintroduction program in Britain.

BirdLife, a global alliance of conservation groups, said 179 species were categorized as critically endangered, the highest level of threat. They include the Azores bullfinch, one of Europe’s rarest songbirds that has fewer than 300 left.

Some good news
Not all was news was negative, with five bird species downlisted to lower categories of threat.

James Eaton  / via BirdLife
The Calayan Rail was added to BirdLife's watch list as "vulnerable" after its discovery was announced in 2004. Found on Calayan Island in the Philippines, it could be susceptible to habitat loss and predation by invasive species such as rats.
These include Kirtland’s Warbler, a brightly colored songbird that breeds in Michigan and winters in the Bahamas.

“This is a credit to the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others, who have brought this species back from the brink of extinction,” Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's global species program coordinator, said in a statement. “Today, there are more than 1,200 Kirtland’s Warblers, from a low-point of 167 in the 1970s, so its future certainly looks rosier.”

The United States also reported the first sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker for the first time in decades.

On the Seychelles islands, the magpie-robin, a species that had dwindled to just 12-15 birds on one island by 1965, recovered to over 130 after birds were relocated to small, predator-free islands off Africa’s east coast.

Rat trouble in New Zealand
But news has been bad elsewhere. BirdLife said two of New Zealand’s species have moved closer to joining five others that are extinct there, largely because of introduced rat population explosions in 1999 and 2000.

Simon Cook  /  BirdLife International
Fewer than 300 Azores Bullfinches are left and the population has been in decline since the early 1990s. As a result, BirdLife changed its status from "endangered" to "critically endangered."
These resulted in the loss of two populations of yellowhead and almost wiped out the orange-fronted parakeet, reducing its numbers to tens.

Habitat destruction and the introduction of alien predators are among the biggest threats to bird populations globally.

“Despite the recent rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, overall more species are currently sliding towards oblivion,” BirdLife spokesman Ed Parnell said in the statement. “One in five bird species on the planet now faces a risk in the short or medium-term of joining the dodo, great auk and 129 other species that we know have become extinct since 1500.”

Reuters contributed to this report.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments