One-third of North America’s birds at risk of extinction

One-third of North America’s birds at risk of extinction

More than one-third of North America’s native bird species are at immediate risk of extinction, a new report has found.

The 2016 State of North America’s Birds report — compiled by scientists, government and non-governmental organizations and citizen scientists from Canada, the continental U.S. and Mexico, and publishedby the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) — was released last Wednesday at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada.

“This report highlights the challenges and successes in bird conservation that we all face, and gives us tools so that we can all continue to work together to protect nature’s resources for the benefit of people, birds and wildlife,” Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, who released the report, said in a statement.

The report — for the first time — assessed the conservation status of 1,154 native bird species that breed in the U.S, Canada and Mexico, as well as oceanic birds that occur off these three countries.

By taking into account a species’ population trend, population size, extent of breeding and nonbreeding ranges, and severity of threats to populations, the report ranked the 1,154 species by level of concern. Species that received “concern scores of 14 or higher” or “a concern score of 13 and a steeply declining population trend” were included in the report’s “Watch List”.

According to this Watch List, 432 species of birds in North America — or about 37 percent —are “most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats”. Some of the species that have received the highest “concern score” of 20 include the bearded screech owl (Megascops barbarous), California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), and Socorro dove (Zenaida graysoni).

One-third of North America’s birds at risk of extinction
The critically endangered California Condor received a “concern score” of 20 in the report’s Watch List. Photo by Stacy, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

“Since 1970, the estimate is we’ve lost at least a billion birds from North America,” Steven Price, president of Bird Studies Canada, a member of the NABCI, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “The trend lines are continuing down. They have to be turned around or will fall below a threshold where they can be recovered.”

More than half of the species on the Watch List are ocean birds and birds that occur in tropical forests, the report notes. Both these groups of birds, according to the report, have small and declining populations, small ranges, and face several threats.

Seabird and island landbird populations, for example, are severely threatened by accidental bycatch by commercial fishing vessels, overfishing of forage fish stocks, invasive predators such as rats and cats that depredate nests on nesting islands, pollution, and climate change, the report explains. Similarly, deforestation and fragmentation of Mexico’s tropical forests have resulted in small, highly threatened species of birds in these forests.

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Destruction of habitat and illegal pet trade severely threatens populations of the endangered red-crowned parrot found in northeastern Mexico. Photo by Leonhard F, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The only group of birds that seem to be doing well are the generalists, such as the ruddy ground dove (Columbina talpacoti) and the tropical kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), the report found. These are birds that are adaptable and can live in various kinds of habitats.

“This report is a superb demonstration of the power of birds, and the growing power of citizen science,”John W. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, an NABCI partner, said in a statement. “Tens of thousands of Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans contributed bird sightings to help produce an unprecedented continent-wide assessment of North America’s birds.”

“Because birds are sensitive barometers of environmental health, I encourage leaders across our three nations, in both government and industry, to consider the findings in this report, which is based on the best available science about our bird populations,” Fitzpatrick added. “Across the continent, it is the will of the people that these species and their habitats be conserved for the future.”

This article was first published by on 23 May 2016.


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