‘Canaries in the coalmine’: loss of birds signals changing planet

‘Canaries in the coalmine’: loss of birds signals changing planet

The world’s birds, described as the planet’s “canaries in the coalmine”, are disappearing in large numbers as the colossal impact of humanity on the Earth grows, a global review has found.

There are about 11,000 species of bird spanning the globe, but the populations of half of them are falling, while just 6% are increasing. Their flight and song make them easier to study than many animals, meaning they are the best studied large group.

Bird populations are also affected by all the damage caused by human activity, from the destruction of wild habitat, the climate crisis, and pesticides and other pollution, to over-hunting and impacts of alien species and disease. This makes them the best living indicators of global change, the scientists said.

Billions of birds have been lost in recent decades in North America and Europe alone, and while there are more species in the tropics, a higher proportion are at risk of extinction in temperate and largely richer nations, the review found.

Conservation efforts have been successful at rescuing individual species in specific locations from the brink, but political will and funding are needed to reverse the global decline, the researchers said.

Lead Image: The most threatened families of birds are those which are larger and take longer to reproduce, including the Australian brushturkey. Photograph: thomasmales/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

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