49% of birds are already extinct around the world

The exponential decline of bird species globally is leaving almost half of the existing avian population under the threat of exploitation and extinction.

  • The Central American yellow-naped Amazon (Fauna and Flora International)

A report by The State of the World’s Birds declares that nearly half of the planet’s bird species are in decline. The report, released every four years by BirdLife International, shows that 73% of avian species are under pressure by the expansion and intensification of agriculture, alongside logging, exploitation and abuse of natural resources, deforestation and the climate crisis.

At least 187 species of birds are either suspected or confirmed to be extinct since the year 1500, with one in every eight species being currently endangered, with most of them living on islands, causing 49% of bird species to decline, up from 40% from the previous report, released in 2018. However, birds in tropical regions and large land masses are not exempt from this threat, such as those in Ethiopia, which has seen an 80% decrease in Liben larks since 2007.

Chief scientist at BirdLife International, Dr. Stuart Butchart, explained that the report is made up of a collection of other studies and gives a more comprehensive idea of ​​the state of nature because birds are the best-studied species on the planet, adding: “ Birds are useful for telling us about the state of the planet. What they say is that nature is in poor condition, lots of species are in decline”.

Approximately 29% of bird species have been destroyed since 1970 in North America and since 1980, 19% have perished in Europe, whose farmland birds have demonstrated the most significant declines: 57% have disappeared as a result of increased mechanization, use of chemicals, and converting land into crops. Australia witnessed 43% of seabird species diminishing between 2000 and 2016. Merely 6% of bird species globally are increasing.

Representing the cornerstones of healthy ecosystems, birds’ disappearance eventually snowballs into affecting those that help the nourishment of nature such as Hornbills which disperse large seeds in tropical forests, turkey vultures that dispose of organic waste, and seabirds which maintain coral reef health and aid in the cycle of nutrients between the sea and land.

Dr. Butchart expressed: “We have to stop these declines and start getting on track for recovery. Our future, as well as the world’s birds, depends on it. If we continue to unravel the fabric of life, we’re going to continue to place our own future at threat.”

Even human health is at stake since growing evidence links bird populations to human health. The more bird species decline, the more human health deteriorates and the Covid-19 pandemic is just one possibility with 70% of zoonotic diseases originating in wildlife. A pathogenic variant of avian flu caused by intensive farming has not only led to rapid declines in some bird populations this year but more than 300 outbreaks have been reported in UK seabird colonies.

With the COP15 meeting in Montreal due to take place in December, it represents an opportunity every 10 years to create new legislation to tackle the biodiversity crisis and Dr. Butchart hopes the study’s deductions will transfer into the final statement from Montreal: “The key action needed now by governments is to make sure a really ambitious and bold global biodiversity framework is adopted. We’ve got to bend this curve, so by 2030 we’re on a mission of being nature positive”.

Possible solutions to the bird crisis include multiplying the quantity and quality of protected areas, conserving remaining habitats, restoring degraded habitats, preventing the illegal hunting of birds, reducing fisheries’ bycatch and preventing overexploitation of natural resources.

Juliet Vickery, chief executive of the British Trust for Ornithology, commented on the report by saying: “The fact that nearly half of all bird species are declining and one in eight is at risk of extinction reinforces the fact that we are living through a biodiversity crisis. It requires action at every level, from local to global. This carries a strong warning about the health of our natural world.”

Among the bird species affected are the South American harpy eagle, which is one of the world’s largest birds of prey, and has declined by 50% in 60 years; the Secretary Bird, originating in sub-Saharan Africa and captured for wildlife trade; the lesser florican, an Indian subcontinent species that has declined by 90% in 20 years; the Central American yellow-naped Amazon which has declined by more than 80% in 30 years, due to poaching and the expansion of agriculture, and as of 2022 is critically endangered; and finally, the Bahama warbler whose habitat was extremely affected by 95% due to Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and was listed as endangered in 2020.

On a slightly positive note, between 21 and 32 bird species would have gone extinct since 1993 if it weren’t for conservation work, according to BirdLife, which describes the creation of a new seabird haven the size of France in the North Atlantic, intended to protect 5 million birds.

Even earlier in August, a rare hummingbird has been rediscovered by an explorer in Colombia after disappearing for more than a decade. The large, emerald-colored hummingbird, known as the Santa Marta Sabrewing, only found in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains – thus the name-, was last observed in 2010, but scientists feared the species might be extinct as the tropical forests it called home were subject to deforestation for agricultural reasons.

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