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Threat of extinction for one in eight birds

A new study has revealed that a shocking one out of eight birds in the world is now under threat of extinction in what is understood as a fully fledged biodiversity crisis. Bird species that were once considered common such as the puffin and the snowy owl are now under threat thanks to factors such as intensive farming.

The report comes from the definitive study of the world’s bird population called The State of the World’s Birds, carried out by Birdlife International. In a comprehensive collation and cross referencing of the data based on bird populations over a five year period, this compendium was able to highlight the birds most at risk and focus in on clear reasons for their precarious position within their natural environment.

Biodiversity crisis

One of the key reasons for there being 1,469 threatened bird species globally was found to be farming. In fact 74% of birds under threat of extinction are thought to have been put in this position for that reason. Farming is not just the only problem though, as logging, the effects of invasive species and hunting also rank highly as factors linked to the threatening of bird species.

Tris Allinson, senior global science officer for Birdlife International spoke of the worrying patterns, ‘Each time we undertake this assessment we see slightly more species at risk of extinction – the situation is deteriorating and the trends are intensifying’.

Allison showed deep concern that species living on remote islands or mountaintops are not the only ones under threat of extinction, but birds which were once thought of as being extremely common, such as European turtle doves, Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes are amongst these species.

Intensive farming

As well as those species that are officially under threat of global extinction, it is also the case that 40% of bird species are in decline. Researchers predominantly blame human activity for this. Climate change for example has led to issues such as melting snow, which has affected snowy owls. Similarly, insect decline has also had a negative impact on the ability for birds to flourish. On top of larger structural problems to do with agriculture, illegal hunting is also still one of the issues that contributes towards bird population decline.

Warnings have been made not to make the same mistakes that people did with the North American passenger pigeon, which was once widespread but then was killed out of existence by 1914. A similar trend can be seen now with the yellow-breasted bunting, which was once one of the most widespread birds across Europe and Asia but, due to illegal hunting, has seen its population decline by 90% since 1980 and its habitat range contracted by 5,000km.

Large scale changes

Allinson though is hopeful that it will be possible to make the changes that need to be made. As she points out, the reasons for bird decline are almost all caused by humans, therefore humans have it in their power to reverse the situation too.

As many of the problems are being caused by logging, one large-scale conservation response is the Trillion Trees project, in which BirdLife, the WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society are combining to plant, protect and restore one trillion trees by 2050.

Another key aim will be to reduce food waste and pesticide use, as Allinson makes clear: ‘We could easily feed the world’s population and leave room for birds and other wildlife if we were more sensible and reduced our food waste and pesticide use and put the right crops in the right areas.’


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