Almost half of the planet’s bird species are in decline, according to a final report that paints the darkest picture yet of the destruction of bird life.
The State of the World’s Birds report, published every four years by BirdLife International, shows that the expansion and intensification of agriculture is putting pressure on 73% of species. Deforestation, invasive species, exploitation of natural resources and climate breakdown are other major threats.
Globally, 49% of bird species are in decline, one in eight are threatened with extinction, and at least 187 species have been confirmed or suspected of extinction since 1500. Most of these are endemic species that live on islands, although there is an increase in birds that are now becoming extinct. on larger land masses, especially in tropical regions. In Ethiopia, for example, the conversion of grasslands to arable land has caused an 80% decline in endemic Lebanon larks since 2007. Only 6% of the world’s bird species are increasing.
Since 1970, 2.9 billion individual birds (29% of the total) have been destroyed in North America. The picture is equally bleak elsewhere in the world – since 1980, 600 million birds (19%) have been destroyed in Europe, with previously abundant species such as the woodcock, snipe and woodcock among those were sliding towards extinction. Agricultural birds in Europe showed the most significant decline: 57% disappeared as a result of increased mechanization, use of chemicals and conversion of land to crops. In Australia, 43% of numerous seabird species declined between 2000 and 2016.
Dr Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International, said: “We need to stop this decline and start getting on the right track for recovery. Our future depends on it, as well as the birds of the world. If we continue to unravel the fabric of life, we will continue to endanger our own future.”
The report is compiled from a compendium of other studies, and since birds are the best-studied group on the planet, it gives an idea of the state of nature in general. “Birds are useful in telling us about the state of the planet.” “What they are saying is that nature is in bad shape, many species are in decline,” said Butchart.
Birds are the cornerstones of healthy ecosystems, so their disappearance is likely to have a myriad of negative effects. For example, hornbills scatter large seeds in tropical forests; turkey vultures dispose of organic waste, while seabirds help cycle nutrients between sea and land, keeping coral reefs healthy.
The previous State of the World’s Birds report, published in 2018, found that 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline.
Wildfires are more prominent in this report than in previous editions, as they have increased and devastated previously unaffected habitats. A series of heat waves, droughts and floods in recent years will lead to widespread species extinction if they continue, researchers warn, underscoring the importance of simultaneously addressing the crisis of nature and climate change.
A growing body of evidence links the health of bird populations to human health. Covid-19 is a warning of what could happen if we continue to destroy the natural world, with 70% of zoonoses originating from wild animals. A highly pathogenic strain of bird flu – the result of intensive breeding – has led to a rapid decline in some bird populations this year. More than 300 outbreaks have been reported in British seabird colonies.
The report comes ahead of the Cop15 meeting in Montreal in December, a once-in-a-decade opportunity to create new laws to address the biodiversity crisis. Butchart hopes the results will be included in the final statement from Montreal. “The key action that governments need now is to ensure that a truly ambitious and bold global biodiversity framework is adopted.” We have to bend this curve, so that by 2030 we are on a mission to be positive about nature,” he said.
This means increasing the number and quality of protected areas, preserving the remaining habitats and restoring those that have been degraded. Preventing the illegal killing of birds, managing invasive species, reducing bycatch in fisheries and preventing overexploitation of natural resources will help.
The report is not all bleak. According to BirdLife, between 21 and 32 species of birds would have become extinct since 1993 without conservation work. It calls for the creation of a new seabird sanctuary the size of France in the North Atlantic, which is estimated to protect 5 million birds.
Juliet Vickery, chief executive of the British Ornithology Trust, who was not involved in the report, said: “The fact that almost half of all bird species are declining and one in eight are at risk of extinction confirms the fact that we are living through a biodiversity crisis. It requires action at every level, from the local to the global. This carries a strong warning about the health of our natural world.”
Birds in distress
South American harpand an eagle, which is 1 meter (3 feet) tall and feeds on monkeys and sloths, is one of the largest birds of prey in the world. On the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in 2021, it was listed from Near Threatened to Vulnerable due to a combination of forest loss, hunting, poaching and collisions with power lines. In 60 years, it decreased by 50%.
The secretary bird, a raptor from sub-Saharan Africa, became endangered in 2020 following habitat degradation caused by grassland burning and intensive livestock grazing. Birds are also captured for the wildlife trade.
The lesser florican, a species endemic to the Indian subcontinent whose males perform jumping rituals to attract the attention of females, has declined by 90% in 20 years, largely due to loss of grassland habitat and feral predatory dogs. Fewer than 1,000 mature individuals are believed to remain, and it is now critically endangered.
Impressive vocal abilities of Central America Yellow-throated Amazon making it one of the most sought-after parrots in the pet trade. It has declined by more than 80% in 30 years, mainly due to poaching and agricultural expansion, and is critically endangered as of 2022.
The Bahamas Cup was hit hard by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, particularly in Grand Bahama, where 95% of its habitat is believed to have been destroyed. It was listed as endangered in 2020.
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