World Bird News August 2007

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Globally threatened birds pay for their sex


A new study published in the leading ornithological journal Ibis has uncovered that for the vast majority of bird species, there are more males than females. The discovery suggests that populations of many of the world’s threatened birds could therefore be overestimated, because scientists often base population estimates on counts of males.
Males are usually more brightly plumaged than females and the males of many species sing to attract mates and defend territories making them easier to hear and therefore count. Researchers then take this as an estimate of the number of breeding pairs, critically assuming an equal number of males and females in the population. But is this assumption a valid one? This study suggests not.
After carrying out a comprehensive review of hundreds of scientific papers, Dr Paul Donald of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) concluded that in the majority of bird species studied, there are more males than females.
“Most species have male-skewed sex ratios, but a wholly unexpected finding was that the rarer the species, the more highly skewed towards males the population sex ratio becomes,” said Dr Donald. “This means that many of the world’s rarest species may be much closer to extinction than we previously thought, because the number of females is lower than the number of males. It is much easier to save a population with an excess of females than one with an excess of males.” As to why this should happen: “It’s not that females are producing more sons than daughters, because at hatching the sex ratio is generally equal. The only possible explanation is that females do not live as long as males,” Dr Donald added. “As generations grow older, they become increasingly dominated by males as more females die off.”
One possible explanation for this higher female mortality is that females may experience higher physiological stress. In many bird species females are the dispersing sex while the males stay closer to home and in migratory species it is often the females that fly the furthest despite being smaller in size.
Referring to the paper, Donald outlined the reason why more threatened species have such strongly skewed sex ratios: “One possible explanation is that many threatened species are endangered because of introduced predators, which have been shown to kill females when they are incubating eggs in the nest.”
Backing up Dr Donald’s argument, some studies have found that populations of threatened species in New Zealand have reverted back to a more balanced sex ratio after predators were removed.
Because most bird population estimates are likely to be overestimates, it is crucial that researchers take the sex ratio into account when devising strategies for saving globally threatened species.

A first for the Americas...


The first ever Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) agreement for an American migratory bird species has been announced. The new agreement calls for both Argentina and Chile to coordinate conservation measures that will halt recent declines in the mainland South American population of Ruddy-headed Goose Chloephaga rubidiceps.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed between Argentina and Chile will promote closer coordination of conservation efforts to save the species, pushing for closer working with local farmers, hunters and reserve managers.
Conservationists at Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in Argentina) have underlined the need for any new measures to be adequately implemented and policed, citing recent evidence that newly-announced hunting legislation is often flouted.
The recent CMS agreement applies to the declining mainland South American population of Ruddy-headed Goose which breeds in Southern Patagonia (Argentina and Chile) and winters in the Buenos Aires province. A recent estimation by Wetlands International put numbers at just 900-1,000 birds.
Factors behind the population decline include introduced predators, loss of habitat and poisoning; yet it is hunting, particularly in the Buenos Aires wintering grounds, that poses the greatest threat. Ruddy-headed Goose are shot both for sport and by farmers mistaking them for widespread birds with similar colouration.
In response to these declines and to the CMS agreement, the Argentinian government last month introduced a close season for the hunting of Ruddy-headed Goose (as well as Upland Goose Chloephaga picta and Ashy-headed Goose Chloephaga poliocephala) in the districts west of Buenos Aires Province. This builds on previous legislation making it illegal to hunt Ruddy-headed Goose all year round within the Buenos Aires Province itself, its wintering location.
Although in full agreement that these measures are a positive step forward, conservationists at Aves Argentinas have raised concern over how well these legislations are being followed in the field: “Unfortunately, recent monitoring has exposed many dead geese, killed by hunters who do not abide by existing law,” said Andrés Bosso, Executive Director at Aves Argentinas, then explaining how tour companies continue to promote geese-hunting trips within Argentina.
“Field control is failing and we are fully aware of agencies promoting a catch of 80 geese per day per hunter, despite the current ban.” Aves Argentinas are now working to raise awareness of the ban, urging: “We should all comply with and help enforce these laws, if we are to fulfil the obligations our country recently made under the Convention on Migratory Species.”

Asian rare bird first to benefit from world’s largest bird conservation programme

Asian rare bird first to benefit from world’s largest bird conservation programme


Bengal Florican, one of the world’s most threatened birds, will be first to benefit from a new conservation approach that aims to save all 189 of the world’s Critically Endangered birds from extinction.
With less than 1,000 individual birds remaining, Bengal Florican had been given just five years before disappearing forever from its stronghold, the floodplain of the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia.
The florican will benefit from the groundbreaking new ‘BirdLife Species Champions’ approach; whereby ‘Champions’ are being sought for Critically Endangered birds, to fund identified conservation programmes that will pull each species back from the brink of extinction.
The ‘Species Champion’ for Bengal Florican will be the British Birdwatching Fair 2007, contributing toward conservation works being undertaken by BirdLife ‘Species Guardians’ working in Cambodia. Three other Critically Endangered birds will also benefit: Belding’s Yellowthroat (Mexico), Djibouti Francolin (Djibouti), Restinga Antwren (Brazil).
Since being re-discovered in Cambodia in 1999, Bengal Florican numbers have plummeted due to unregulated land conversion for intensive agriculture.
The BirdLife Species Champions funding will contribute toward the government-approved ‘Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Areas’ programme in Cambodia, encouraging communities to favour ‘low-impact’ traditional farming techniques over intensive non-sustainable dry-season rice production.
“It is a fantastic privilege that Birdfair can act as Species Champion for the Bengal Florican,” said Martin Davies, co-organiser of the British Birdwatching Fair. "Visitors to the fair can take heart in knowing that their contributions will directly help the survival prospects of birds that otherwise would certainly disappear from the planet forever.” Critically Endangered birds can be saved from extinction through this innovative approach,” said Dr Mike Rands, Chief Executive of BirdLife International, on the BirdLife Species Champions initiative.

“We know the priority conservation actions needed for each species – what we need now is the support of companies, organisations or even individuals –Species Champions.”

Already described as the biggest and most wide-ranging bird conservation programme the world has ever seen, BirdLife’s Species Champions initiative aims to save all 189 Critically Endangered birds, by finding ‘Species Champions’ who will fund the work of identified ‘Species Guardians’ for each bird - organisations and people best placed to carry out the conservation work necessary to prevent an otherwise certain extinction.

“This is an enormous challenge, but one we are fully committed to achieving in our efforts to save the world’s birds from extinction,” added Dr Rands.
“One hundred and eighty-nine wonderful and fascinating bird species are on the brink of disappearing forever. Any such extinction diminishes us, and narrows our world,” said Dr Leon Bennun, Birdlife’s Director of Science, Policy & Information. “But these birds can be saved – the support of Species Champions will make this possible.”
The BirdLife Species Champions initiative will be launched officially at this year's British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water (August 19-21), co-organised by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.
Find out how you can help by clicking here

Contributing factors sought as Red Knot population plummets


A new report has revealed a drastic population decline in the Red Knot subspecies Calidris canutus rufa. Numbers at their wintering grounds in southern South America have fallen drastically in recent years; from 51,300 in 2000 to approximately 30,000 in 2004, and still further to just 17,200 in 2006.
The 2007 Red Knot Assessment Report, prepared by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and based on demographic studies covering 1994-2002, reveals that the rufa subspecies could become extinct within ten years, if adult survival remains low.

As result of the significant declines, Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa has been included under Appendix I of the Convention of Migratory Species by request of the Argentinean government. In Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has listed it as Endangered.
Of the six Calidris canutus subspecies, rufa travels the longest distance, between breeding areas in the Canadian Artic and wintering areas in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
Although the causes of the population crash are not yet fully understood, the dramatic decline is mainly attributed to the low availability of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay, USA, a key stopover site for Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa. The lack of eggs has been attributed to an elevated harvest of adult crabs for bait in the conch and eel fishing industries. Studies show that Red Knot individuals with lower body weight at departure in Delaware Bay have lower survival than heavier birds.
Even if crab exploitation ceases immediately, scientist predict it would take years before the horseshoe crab population recovers to its former level. Other possible contributing factors in the decline include the loss of critical habitats, contamination and the spread of non-controlled tourism activities at their wintering and migration areas.
Recent unexplained Red Knot die-offs have highlighted further the need for research into the variety of threats afflicting the already declining rufa population.

In April, 312 dead Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa were discovered by a park guard at Playa La Coronilla in southeastern Uruguay and the same day over 1,000 birds were found dead at a second site nearby. Of the events Joaquín Aldabe, IBA coordinator at Aves Uruguay (BirdLife in Uruguay) commented: "It seems possible that harmful algal blooms could be related to it, although additional studies are required in order to fully understand this unexpected event."

Aves Uruguay, in connection with other national and international organisations, is already working in the area to establish the possible causes of the casualties and the role of Uruguay as stopover for the species.

“The death of more than 1,300 Red Knots in Uruguay is of particular concern given the low overall population size,” said Rob Clay, Conservation Manager of BirdLife’s Americas Secretariat. “This number represents over 6% of the [rufa] population, all of which winter in southern South America. The discovery underlines the need to better understand factors which may be affecting the species during migration and on its wintering grounds.”

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), a partnership of organisations working to conserve shorebirds and their habitats through a network of key sites across the Americas, will soon release a Species Conservation Action Plan for the Red Knot in the Western Hemisphere.

The plan is the work of the Red Knot Species Assessment Team, comprising dozens of expert authors across the hemisphere. Charles Duncan, Director of the Executive Office of WHSRN said: “We are committed to working collaboratively with partners, like BirdLife’s network of affiliates, at the enormous geographic scale needed to ensure not only the survival, but the recovery of healthy populations, of Red Knots and other shorebirds in the Americas. This will require targeted conservation action, scientific understanding of the causes of the declines, and monitoring of threats and population levels.”
The Executive Office of WHSRN is a key program of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, in Manomet, Massachusetts, USA.

European conservation works: Science paper reveals successes of the EU Birds Directive

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla and Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti are prominent examples of this success: without the Birds Directive and the efforts of governments and conservationists to implement it on the ground, these birds would now face a much bleaker future.

BirdLife hopes this evidence will now boost efforts of governments to comply with the Birds Directive, especially in the new Member States of the EU.

In June, the European Commission started legal action against many Member States after failing to designate enough protected areas for birds. In recent months, Poland has also faced Europe-wide criticism for the construction of an expressway through the pristine Rospuda Valley, a very important site protected under the Birds Directive.
Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife International in Brussels, said: “Europe has a world class conservation law and there is no excuse any more for delayed action.” BirdLife warns that insufficient designation and protection of sites, lack of funding for site management and unsustainable agriculture all could reverse the successes of the Birds Directive, perpetuating dramatic declines in Europe’s wildlife.
Today, the renowned journal Science publishes a BirdLife International analysis showing that the European Union’s Birds Directive has made a significant difference in protecting many of the continent’s most threatened birds from further decline.

The groundbreaking paper shows that the Birds Directive has clearly helped those species considered to be most at risk, partly through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The Birds Directive was adopted in 1979 and is now binding law for all EU countries, it requires special conservation measures for a number of listed species.

Importantly, today’s research, taking into account the fifteen Member States for which sufficient data were available, showed that the populations of threatened birds not only fared better, on average, than other bird species in the European Union, but also that the same species perform better within the EU than in European countries outside.

Dr Paul Donald, the paper’s senior author from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) said: “For over 25 years, the Birds Directive has helped provide proper protection for those bird species facing the greatest threats. Today we can reveal that this protection has apparently worked.”

Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) declares first national park


After just five years as an independent nation, Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) has declared its first national park, a move which will protect a number of threatened species found nowhere else on Earth.
The declaration has been applauded by BirdLife International, one of a number of organisations involved in the site designation process.
“This is an incredibly forward-thinking decision, made all the more spectacular by the fact that this is such a young nation,” said Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s Chief Executive. “We wholeheartedly congratulate the Timor-Leste government on this declaration, and their commitment to conservation in line with sustaining the livelihoods and heritage of local people.”
Timor-Leste became independent in 2002 and despite rich deposits of oil and gas it remains one of the world's poorest nations.
The newly designated Nino Konis Santana National Park –at over 123,600 hectares- links together three of the island’s sixteen BirdLife-designated Important Bird Areas: Lore; Monte Paitchau and Lake Iralalara; and Jaco Island.

“This is great progress by the government and communities of Timor-Leste. After five years work our first national park is born. It will help our nation to protect its national heritage, culture and history,” said Manuel Mendes, Director of the Department of Protected Areas and National Parks, Timor-Leste. “The national park will protect globally significant biodiversity and the culture and socioeconomic livelihoods of communities living there.”
The National Park will also include over 55,600 hectares of the ‘Coral Triangle’, a marine area with the greatest biodiversity of coral and reef fish in the world.
The National Park includes 25 bird species restricted to Timor and neighbouring islands, and also the Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea, whose populations have been devastated worldwide by unsustainable exploitation for trade. In addition the Park is home to the endemic Timor Green-pigeon Treron psittaceus, listed as Endangered due to loss of monsoon-forest habitat on Timor island.BirdLife has worked with the Timor-Leste government (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, MAFF) since shortly after the country's formal independence. Site designation work began with a programme of biological surveys, resulting in the identification of the country's Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (soon to be published in book form).

In doing this BirdLife joined forces with the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), whose participation allowed the programme to be widened towards establishment of a new national protected areas network. Additional support to the programme was provided by Australian Volunteers International. Funding came from the Australian Government's Regional Natural Heritage Programme, Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund (Japan), and the UK Government's Darwin Initiative.

“Now we must plan further and work hard to manage well, not only the government of Timor-Leste but international partners who want to collaborate and work with us, help us to build our capacity so that we can manage for ourselves,” finished Mendes.

The National Park is named in honour of Nino Konis Santana, national hero and former Commander of FALANTIL (Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste), the armed wing of the resistance movement in the struggle for independence who was born in the village of Tutuala within the National Park.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2007 |  World Bird News August 2007

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