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Nine native birds edge closer to extinction

1 June 2005 - Wellington

Nine native birds edge closer to extinction - global assessment

Two New Zealand native bird species - red-fronted parakeet (kakariki) and rock wren - have been added to the list of globally threatened birds following an international reassessment of the world's threatened bird species released today. A further seven native bird species have had their global threat status upgraded to a higher threat category.

"If these birds continue to decline at this rate, the only place to hear them in a few years time might be on the National Radio bird-call slot," Forest and Bird's Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell said today.

"This reassessment is a disturbing reminder that New Zealand needs to do more to stem the decline of its approximately 800 threatened species," he said.

"Introduced pests have contributed to the decline of at least six of the nine bird species upgraded in today's reassessment," he said.

"Chatham Island shag and orange-fronted parakeet have gone up a threat category from endangered to critically endangered. They are in the same league as the kakapo. High predation during a breeding season could wipe out the orange-fronted parakeet forever," he said.

"While the cause for the Chatham Island shag's decline is unclear, orange-fronted parakeets have been the victim of periodic rat and stoat plagues. Predation has also contributed to the threatened status of kaka, red-fronted parakeet (kakariki), yellowhead (mohua), black-billed gull and rock wren," he said.

"New Zealand dotterel have declined through habitat loss caused by coastal development, predation by cats and stoats, and disturbance by people, vehicles and pets," he said.


Where to find the full list of changes

BirdLife International's revisions and the associated documentation are being released on the internet today and will be incorporated into the 2005 World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Globally Threatened Species which is due for publication in the Northern Autumn 2005.

They can be found at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html

Table of changes

Status in 2004
Status in 2005
Red-fronted parakeet*
Least Concern
Orange-fronted parakeet
Critically Endangered
Black-billed gull
Pitt Island shag
Rock wren*
Near Threatened
New Zealand dotterel
Chatham Island shag
Critically Endangered
Hawkins Rail**
Not Recognised

* = qualifies as a globally threatened species for the first time.
** = of archaeological interest

IUCN Red List threat categories

* Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild), * Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild), * Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), * Near Threatened (close to qualifying for Vulnerable) and * Least Concern (species not qualifying for the other categories, including widespread and abundant species).

BirdLife International

BirdLife International is a global alliance of non-government conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life. Forest and Bird is the New Zealand Partner of BirdLife International.

BirdLife International is the official Red Listing Authority for birds for the IUCN Red List which includes all species judged to be threatened with extinction.

International perspective

In the latest 2005 assessment 1,212 bird species are considered threatened with extinction (i.e. in the categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable). This represents 12.4% of the total of 9,775 extant bird species in the world. An additional 788 species are considered Near Threatened, giving a total of exactly 2,000 species that are urgent priorities for conservation action.

Overall, the number of species globally that have slipped further towards extinction is greater than the number that have been pulled back from the brink.

New Zealand extinctions

Five species are known to have become extinct in New Zealand since 1900:
The Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies) was last seen in 1914; the spectacular Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) was last recorded in 1907; the tiny Bush Wren (Xenicus longipes) was last seen in 1972; the South Island Piopio (Turnagra tanagra) was last seen in 1955; and the North Island Piopio (Turnagra capensis) was last seen in 1963.

In 2003 the New Zealand storm-petrel (Oceanites maorianus) was spectacularly rediscovered, having been considered extinct since the nineteenth century. Refer to: http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2004/02/nz_storm-petrel.html

Background to individual bird species

Orange-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi)

Upgraded from Endangered to Critically Endangered: Orange-fronted parakeet was listed as Endangered previously because of an extremely small and declining population (estimated to number 200-500 individuals) and range at just two locations. However, in 1999-2000 numbers crashed from several hundred to low tens as a result of rat and stoat plagues in two successive summers. The population has remained very low since, hence its new Critically Endangered listsing. The Government is intensively managing the last remaining populations of orange-fronted parakeets (see Forest and Bird's May 2005 magazine for details).

Chatham Island Shag (Phalacrocorax onslowi)

Upgraded from Endangered to Critically Endangered: Chatham Island shag was listed as Endangered previously because it lives in an extremely small area on three islands. However, surveys in 1997 found 840 pairs, but in 2003 only 270 pairs were counted. The cause of decline is unclear . The breeding area totals less than one hectare, as the species breeds on just a few ledges. This now Critically Endangered species could be extinct by 2020.

Kaka (Nestor meridionalis)

Upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered: Kaka was listed as Vulnerable previously because it had a small population which was estimated to be declining at a rate of over 10% in three generations (around 45 years). However, new information indicates that this species has almost disappeared from the mainland except for a few intensely managed sites, from having been common and widespread a century ago. Stoat predation is the main cause of mortality and particularly affects nesting females, so quite large numbers of males can remain highly visible for a long time after most females have disappeared. Kaka appear to have declined by over 50% over the last 45 years, and are now considered to be Endangered.

Yellowhead/Mohua (Mohoua ochrocephala)

Upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered: Yellowhead/mohua were listed as Vulnerable previously because they have a small range and population which was severely fragmented and declining. However, new information indicates that this species has undergone a severe recent decline and are now classed as Endangered. The population is estimated to have declined by more than 50% in ten years. From 1982-1993, out of 14 monitored populations, one became extinct, five declined significantly (three to the verge of extinction), one population increased, and seven didn't change significantly, Since then, this species was also very seriously affected by the 1999-2000 rat and stoat plagues, with two populations undergoing local extinction, and three more having significant population crashes. Some populations have now been established on offshore islands. (See Forest and Bird's May 2005 magazine for more information.)

New Zealand Dotterel (Charadrius obscurus)

Upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered: New Zealand Dotterel has a small and fragmented population and a small and severely fragmented range. It faces threats from coastal development, predation from cats and stoats and disturbance by people, their vehicles and their pets. The population is maintained through intensive management. Increasing concern over the dotterel's dependence on intensive management has caused the upgrade in status from Vulnerable to Endangered.

Black-billed Gull (Larus bulleri)

Upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered: Black-billed Gull was listed as Vulnerable previously because it was estimated to be declining by more than 30% over three generations owing to a variety of threats causing breeding failures at colonies. However, new evidence suggests the declines may be even higher. The main threats are predation by pests, weed spread, changes to habitat through hydroelectric development and irrigation and other forms of human disturbance.

This species is in steep decline on its main breeding grounds on South Island braided riverbeds. At one minor colony in the Hunter Valley, Otago, which was recently resurveyed, numbers had dropped from 581 in 1969 to just 12. The same trend was seen in the nearby Makarora catchment.

The largest population is in Southland, where the Oreti River population declined from 84,900 breeding birds counted in 1974 to 15,308 in 1997. Six rivers in the upper Waitaki lost all their breeding colonies. Overall declines are now estimated to exceed 50% over three generations and this has led to an upgrade in status to Endangered. (See Forest and Bird's May 2005 magazine for more details.)

Pitt Island Shag (Phalacrocorax featherstoni)

Upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered: Pitt Island Shag was classified as vulnerable because it lives on a small area and has a small population (estimated to be 729 breeding pairs in 1997). This makes it vulnerable to the effects of human activities and random events. New information suggests that its population has declined 25% over six years to 2003 and so it has been upgraded to Endangered. Pitt Island Shag could be extinct by 2020.

Red-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae)

Upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable: Red-fronted parakeet was listed as Least Concern previously. The species was historically extremely abundant on mainland New Zealand, and also occurred on various offshore island groups. It is now effectively extinct on the mainland: recent sightings are now believed to be cage escapes/releases or vagrants from offshore island populations.

It is still found on the Kermadec islands, Three Kings, some Hauraki Gulf islands, Kapiti Island, Stewart Island and surrounding islands, Chatham Islands, Snares, and as a hybrid swarm (with Yellow-crowned parakeet C. auriceps) on the Auckland Islands. Declines are likely to be taking place on Stewart Island (by inference from measured declines of other species owing to rat and cat predation). The population has now become fragmented and is considered Vulnerable.

Rock Wren (Xenicus gilviventris)

Upgraded from Near Threatened to Vulnerable: Rock Wren was listed as Near Threatened previously. However, a recent analysis of sightings indicates that about one fifth of known localities have had no sightings in the past 20 years. Therefore it is now classed as Vulnerable. The only study on nesting in this species showed significant levels of egg and chick loss to mice and stoats. The closely related Bush Wren became Extinct in the second half of the 20th Century.

Hawkins' Rail (Diaphorapteryx hawkinsi)

Hawkins' Rail was known from the Chatham Islands. It was not classified as Extinct because its extinction was thought to have occurred before the cut-off date of 1500. However, recent evidence including a letter from Sigvard Jacob Dannefarerd to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild in 1895 describing the species' appearance, behaviour and Moriori hunting method suggests that this species survived into at least the 1800s. It has therefore been classified as recently extinct.


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