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More birds slipping towards extinction

More birds slipping towards extinction

Cambridge, UK, 1 June 2005 - BirdLife International's annual evaluation of how the world's bird species are faring shows that the total number 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. [1, 2]

"Despite the recent rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, overall more species are currently sliding towards oblivion. 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," said BirdLife's Communication Officer, Ed Parnell.

Of the species currently in trouble, 179 are now categorised as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat. These include the Azores Bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina), one of Europe's rarest songbirds, which has been in decline since the early 1990s, with fewer than 300 individuals left. However, the entire home-range of the species has recently been declared a Special Protection Area (SPA) by the Portuguese Government, affording it some much-needed protection under European Union legislation.

Several species from Europe appear in the list for the first time, like European Roller (Coracias garrulus), for which key populations in Turkey and European Russia have declined markedly; Krüper's Nuthatch (Sitta krueperi), a mainly Turkish species that has declined because of tourism development of its key habitats; and Red Kite (Milvus milvus), which has suffered large declines across Europe, despite a highly successful reintroduction programme in the UK. All three move from the Least Concern category to Near Threatened.

Despite the best efforts of conservationists in New Zealand, two more of its species have taken a step closer to joining the long list of previous extinctions there, largely because of introduced rat population explosions in 1999 and 2000. These resulted in the loss of two populations of Yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala) and its uplisting from Vulnerable to Endangered. Orange-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi) fared even worse, with its numbers reduced to tens and the species now classified as Critically Endangered. [3]

However, it is not all bad news: five species have been downlisted to lower categories of threat, mostly because populations have recovered following successful implementation of conservation measures. These include Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii), a brightly-coloured songbird which breeds in the US State of Michigan, winters in the Bahamas, and has been downlisted from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

"This is a credit to the efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and others, who have brought this species back from the brink of extinction," commented Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator. "Their actions demonstrate the value of good conservation science: thanks to a thorough understanding of the bird's ecology, conservationists were able to create ideal breeding habitat and reduce the serious threat from parasitic cowbirds. 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."

Europe has a success story too with White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), one of the continent's largest birds of prey, increasing roughly two-fold during the 1990s, moving it from Near Threatened to Least Concern.

Several new species were also found in 2004 including the much-publicised Calayan Rail from the Philippines. Each was examined by BirdLife for validity, and to evaluate its threat status. [4]

"Overall, the number of species that have slipped further towards extinction is greater than the number we have pulled back from the brink," said Butchart. "We face a huge challenge in improving the status of the 1,212 threatened and 788 near-threatened species. But the success stories show that concerted conservation action can save these birds from extinction." [5]

BirdLife's revisions to Red List categories, and the associated documentation, are being released on their website today and will be incorporated into the 2005 IUCN Red List, released in Autumn 2005.
They can be found at:


Notes for Editors

1. BirdLife International is a global alliance of 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.

2. BirdLife is the Red Listing Authority for birds for the IUCN Red List which includes all species judged to be threatened with extinction. IUCN Red List categories are: 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). In the latest 2005 assessment 1,212 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.

3. Five species are known to have become extinct in New Zealand since 1900. Among these are the Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies), last definitely seen in 1914; the spectacular Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris), last recorded in 1907; and the tiny Bush Wren (Xenicus longipes), last seen in 1972. However, more recently there have been a number of success stories thanks to intensive conservation work by the New Zealand Government and others. In 2003 the New Zealand Storm-petrel (Oceanites maorianus) was spectacularly rediscovered, having been thought extinct since the nineteenth century. See:

4. Exactly one hundred years after the last visit by an ornithologist, a team of bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian specialists arrived in May 2004 on the island of Calayan, one of the Babuyan Islands in the northernmost part of the Philippines archipelago. There, they made the remarkable discovery of a new species of rail, which they named the Calayan Rail (Gallirallus calayanensis). See:

5. In total, 99 species have changed threat category since the 2004 assessment. There are several reasons why a species might change category-including taxonomic changes or because more information is found out about them. For example, an ornithologist visits a remote place where the species was once found and either finds more of the birds than were believed to exist, or fails to find any at all. In the Solomon Islands, BirdLife recently found no trace of Thick-billed Ground-dove (Gallicolumba salamonis), and so the species is now regretfully classified as Extinct.

Species Case Studies

UPLISTED: Azores Bullfinch
Category: from Endangered to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

There are fewer than 300 Azores Bullfinches Pyrrhula murina and the population has been in decline since the early 1990s, hence the species has been uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered. Large swathes of native laurel forest have been felled and cleared and the remaining fragments are being degraded as the native plants which the bullfinch relies on for food are overwhelmed by non-native, invasive plants, which the birds rarely eat. However, the species's entire home range of Pico da Vara/Ribeira do Guilherme was recently declared a Special Protection Area (SPA) by the Portuguese Government, following work by SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal), thus affording it much-needed protection under European Union legislation.
Photo: [CREDIT - Simon Cook]

UPLISTED: Pitt Island Shag
Category: from Vulnerable to ENDANGERED

In 1997, the number of breeding pairs of Pitt Island Shag Phalacrocorax featherstoni was estimated at 729. It nests only in the Chathams, New Zealand, on six small islands, and its population size is notoriously difficult to determine, because of the remoteness of the islands, and because of annual variation. Nevertheless, numbers have apparently dropped significantly in recent years, although whether this is a natural fluctuation in abundance, possibly related to the onset of El Nino events, remains to be seen. It moves from Vulnerable to Endangered.
Photo: [CREDIT - Phil Hansbro]

DOWNLISTED: Abbott's Booby
Category: from Critically Endangered to ENDANGERED

Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti is a tree-nester with 5,000 pairs breeding solely on Australia's Christmas Island. Possibly the most serious threat is the introduced yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), which spread rapidly during the 1990s to cover 28% of the island's forest. Super-colonies of ants were likely to prey directly on booby nestlings, and alter the island's ecology by killing the dominant life-form, the red crab (Gecaroidea natalis), and by farming scale insects, which damage the trees. Recent ant control efforts have proved successful and the booby's future now looks more secure. It moves from Critically Endangered to Endangered.
Photo: [CREDIT - Tony Palliser]

DOWNLISTED: Seychelles Magpie-robin
Category: from Critically Endangered to ENDANGERED

Once found on at least six islands in the Seychelles, the Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum dwindled to just 12-15 birds on Frégate by 1965, largely because of predation and competition with invasive species. A very successful recovery programme, initiated in 1990, has since 1998 been managed locally. Birds have been translocated to small, predator-free islands, and nesting success boosted by habitat creation, supplementary feeding, nest defence, provision of nest boxes, and reduction of introduced competitors. Today, there are more than 130 birds, with small populations on Frégate, Cousin, Cousine and Aride. It moves from Critically Endangered to Endangered.
Photo: [CREDIT - David Haigh]


The discovery of Calayan Rail Gallirallus calayanensis was announced in 2004 amid a wave of publicity, following the publication of its formal description in the Oriental Bird Club's journal Forktail. The population seems to be small and the area of Calayan Island it occupies appears to be tiny. As yet there is no evidence of a decline, but like many other rails on small islands, it would be susceptible to habitat loss and predation by invasive species such as rats. Hence BirdLife has assessed its status as Vulnerable.
Photo: [CREDIT - James Eaton/]

For further information and full documentation of each of the species mentioned, see

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