Jun 7

Big birds appear to be losing out in the fight for survival, as revealed by the 2011 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for Birds. The updated list has just been released by BirdLife International, an IUCN Red List partner.  

The great Indian bustard is just one species that has been uplisted to Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat. Hunting, disturbance, habitat loss and fragmentation have all combined to reduce this magnificent species to perhaps as few as 250 individuals. 

Photo of great Indian bustard male

Great Indian bustard - uplisted to Critically Endangered.

13 percent of birds threatened  

In an ever more crowded world, species that need lots of space, such as the great Indian bustard, are losing out. However, we are the ones who lose in the long run, as the services that nature provides us start to disappear,” said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science and Policy.  

This year’s Red List update brings the total number of threatened bird species to 1,253, an alarming 13% of all the world’s birds.  

In the space of a year another 13 bird species have moved into the threatened categories”, said Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. “This is a disturbing trend; however the figure would be much worse if conservation initiatives were not in place.”  

Photo of secretarybird running with wings spread to take off

The secretarybird was uplisted to Vulnerable as a result of recent population declines.

Another species that has seen its population decline rapidly over recent years is the secretarybird. This distinctive terrestrial raptor is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, but habitat degradation, disturbance, hunting and capture for trade have caused its population to crash. 

Reversed fortunes 

Although the situation appears bleak for many species, this year’s update does highlight several species where targeted conservation work has turned around their fortunes,” said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer.

Photo of male Campbell Island teal on water

The Campbell Island teal has benefited from conservation work and has been downlisted to Endangered.

The Campbell Island teal has benefitted from a massive programme to eradicate rats, plus captive breeding of remaining individuals. The species has now returned to New Zealand’s Campbell Island and the majority of the birds are now thriving, resulting in a reclassification of its threat status from Critically Endangered to Endangered. 

The outlook is also positive for the lesser kestrel. Habitat loss and degradation had caused a severe decline across much of Europe, but its population now appears to be stable or even increasing, resulting in this species being downlisted from Vulnerable to Least Concern.

Photo of lesser kestrel pair

Another species to benefit from conservation, the lesser kestrel - downlisted to Least Concern.

Dr Bennun highlighted the value of bird conservation. 

Birds are so intertwined with human culture all around the world that they present a very visible picture of the state of nature. Good examples abound of how we can save threatened birds. We need to redouble our efforts to do so, otherwise we risk not just losing magnificent creatures like the great Indian bustard, but unravelling the whole fabric of our life-support systems.” 

Read the BirdLife International press release – Big birds lose out in a crowded world.

View more threatened birds on ARKive

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

  • safari holidays in Africa (June 7th, 2011 at 1:24 pm):

    Some of the mentioned species are eaten in some parts of the world but however much we would like to say, put an ostrich egg on our breakfast plates, we need to critically look at the next bird that will give you the same egg in another year. Birding is very interesting in Sub Saharan Africa and is surely worth the conservation drives!