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secretary bird

A secretarybird—a species whose population has plummeted by an estimated 94% in Kenya—is seen in Masai Mara National Reserve on March 16, 2019. (Photo: Pete Steward/flickr/cc)

Alarming Report Warns 1 in 8 Bird Species Now Facing Extinction

"We have already lost over 160 bird species in the last 500 years," the report's lead author warned, "and the rate of extinction is accelerating."

Brett Wilkins

Nearly half the world's bird species are in decline, with 1 in 8 species facing extinction, an annual report published Wednesday by a leading avian conservation group revealed.

"If we give nature a chance, it can recover."

BirdLife International's State of the World's Birds report for 2022 "paints a deeply concerning picture" as the "status of the world's birds continues to deteriorate."

"Species are moving ever faster towards extinction," the paper states. "For those not yet considered threatened, the majority are in decline and have much-depleted populations."

"For example," the authors noted, "2.9 billion individual birds are estimated to have been lost in North America since 1970," while 600 million others have been lost in the European Union since 1980.

"Furthermore," the they added, "many key sites supporting bird populations—Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)—are in an unfavorable condition."

Lucy Haskell, BirdLife's science officer and the report's lead author, said in a statement that "we have already lost over 160 bird species in the last 500 years, and the rate of extinction is accelerating."

"Historically, most extinctions were on islands, but worryingly there is a growing wave of continental extinctions, driven by landscape-scale habitat loss," she added.

The main driver of avian decline is habitat destruction and poisoning by agriculture, which impacts 73% of threatened species.

"In Europe, this has resulted in an over 50% decline in abundance of the continent's farmland birds since 1980 and, further south, the conversion of grasslands to croplands has resulted in an 80% decline in the population of the Liben Lark (critically endangered) in just 15 years," the report's authors noted. "Endemic to Ethiopia, there are now fewer than 50 breeding pairs of the species restricted to just two sites, and it is feared it may become continental Africa's first bird extinction in modern times unless there is rapid conservation action."

Logging and unsustainable forest management pose another "significant threat" to bird populations.

"More than seven million hectares of forest are lost every year—an area larger than the Republic of Ireland—and this impacts nearly half of the world's threatened bird species," the report states. "Species that depend on large, old-growth trees are particularly affected, such as the Harpy Eagle, the world's most powerful bird of prey."

Additionally, human-caused climate change "is already having a substantial impact, affecting 34% of threatened species," according to the report.

"Already driving unprecedented levels of storms, wildfires, and drought, its impact will undoubtedly increase rapidly over the coming years," the authors wrote.

"Alongside this, threats such as bycatch from fisheries, overexploitation and invasive species, which throughout history have been the leading cause of avian extinctions, continue to drive population declines," they added.

The report's authors have cause for optimism, as successful conservation efforts like the creation of Argentina's Ansenzusa National Park show what can be accomplished.

"There is no denying that the situation is dire, but we know how to reverse these declines," asserted BirdLife chief scientist Stuart Butchart.

"Our research shows that between 21 and 32 bird species would have gone extinct since 1993 without the conservation efforts undertaken to save them," he continued. "Species like the Echo Parakeet, California Condor, Northern Bald Ibis, and Black Stilt would no longer exist outside museums were it not for the dedicated efforts of the many organizations in the BirdLife partnership and beyond. If we give nature a chance, it can recover."

The new report comes as governments prepare for December's Convention on Biological Diversity meeting, where a 10-year strategy for nature known as the Global Biodiversity Framework is expected to be finalized and adopted.

According to BirdLife, "the most important solution for the largest proportion of threatened species is to effectively conserve and restore the critical sites that birds depend upon," while implementing species-specific conservation policies.

"Birds tell us about the health of our natural environment—we ignore their messages at our peril," warned BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita.

"Many parts of the world are already experiencing extreme wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, and floods, as human-transformed ecosystems struggle to adapt to climate change," she added. "While the Covid pandemic and global cost of living crisis have undoubtedly diverted attention from the environmental agenda, global society must remain focused on the biodiversity crisis."

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