Even common birds are in trouble, says BirdLife report

Posted by Laura Grant on September 22, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Around the world, the numbers of once common birds are falling, providing evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment, says BirdLife International in a new publication, State of the World’s Birds, and website, which were launched today.

“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”, said Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s CEO.

The key global threats identified by BirdLife include the intensification of industrial-scale agriculture and fishing, the spread of invasive species, logging and the replacement of natural forest with monocultural plantations. But, Dr Rands warns: “In the long term, human-induced climate change may be the most serious stress of all.”

Birds that migrate between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa have suffered substantial declines over the past 30 years, says BirdLife. The European Roller (Coracias garrulus), for example, declined in Europe by more than 20 percent from 1970 to 1990 and by another 20 percent in the 1990s, according to the State of the World’s Birds website. It is now considered to be globally near threatened.

Migrating water birds are also under pressure. Of 235 species of migratory waterbirds protected in Europe and Africa, all except one are experiencing some threat from climate change, and nine species face severe threats that could cause extinction, according to another report, Migratory Waterbirds and Climate Change. Effects within the African-Eurasian Flyways, released last week at an African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) meeting in Madagascar.

AEWA is a United Nations Environment Programme treaty which aims to foster international co-operation in the conservation of waterbirds along all the mayor migration routes in Africa and Eurasia.

Its report highlights the need for more international co-operation in helping migratory birds cope with climate change and other environmental problems.

Simon Delany, of Wetlands International was quoted in an ENS report as saying, “The main causes of declining waterbird numbers along the African-Eurasian Flyways are the destruction and unsustainable exploitation of wetlands, which are largely driven by poorly-planned economic development.”

The impacts are compounded by climate change. Many regions in Africa are predicted to become drier and consequently the wet habitats upon which migrating waterbirds depend will dry up. But if the other pressures, such as habitat loss, can be minimised “we increase the birds’ ability to cope with climate change”, Dr Ilya Maclean, lead author of the report said.

The Wings over Water project, a co-operative international conservation initiative, aims to improve and conserve healthy and viable populations of African-Eurasian migratory waterbirds. Its web portal provides information on more than 300 migratory waterbird species, their migration routes and the key wetland sites these birds use in the African-Eurasian region.

Dr Rands of BirdLife says that “Because birds are found almost everywhere on earth, they can act as our eyes and ears, and what they are telling us is that the deterioration in biodiversity and the environment is accelerating, not slowing.”

Other alarming statistics from BirdLife’s State of World’s Birds report include:
– 45 percent of common European birds are declining: the familiar European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur), for example, has lost 62 percent of its population in the last 25 years.
– Resident Australian wading birds have seen population losses of 81 percent over the same time period.
– 20 North American common birds have more than halved in number in the last four decades.
– In only 16 years, the populations of white-rumped vultures (Gyps bengalensis) in Asia have crashed by 99.9 percent – the species is now classified as critically endangered
– 19 of the 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction.

BirdLife says it’s not too late to do something to stop the declines in bird populations. Conservation works and is relatively cheap, it says. But conserving biodiversity now urgently needs more financial support.

“Effective biodiversity conservation is easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy”, said Dr Rands. For example, to maintain the protected area network which would safeguard 90 percent of Africa’s biodiversity would cost less than $1 billion a year – yet in a typical year the global community provides around $300 million.”


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