World Bird News August 2015

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Extent of illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean revealed in BirdLife report

Extent of illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean revealed in BirdLife report

BirdLife International’s first review into the illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean has been published – and it’s uncovered the shocking death toll suffered by a number of the region’s species.

Unlawfully shot, trapped or even glued: the review estimates 25 million birds are being killed illegally each year. With the help of BirdLife Partners, a list of the ten Mediterranean countries with the highest number of birds thought to be killed each year has been compiled. The review lays bare the areas where conservation efforts need to be stepped up.

Countries currently hit by conflict, such as Syria and Libya, do feature highly in the rankings, but so do some European nations too. Italy comes second only to Egypt for the estimated mean number of illegal killings each year. Meanwhile, the Famagusta area of Cyprus has the unenviable position of being the single worst location in the Mediterranean under the same criteria.

Other European countries featuring in the top 10 are Greece, France, Croatia and Albania. Despite not ranking in the top 10 overall, Malta sees the region’s highest estimated number of birds illegally killed per square kilometre.
For BirdLife, the review further demonstrates why the Birds Directive, currently under examination by the European Commission, should be better implemented, rather than re-opened.

The review also exposes some of the common methods of killing in use across the Mediterranean; which include illegal shooting, capture in nets and recordings of bird sounds used to lure them to illegal trapping locations. Many of the cruel methods used, such as lime sticks that glue the birds to branches, cause considerable suffering before resulting in the bird’s death.

Figures suggest Eurasian Chaffinch comes top of the ‘kill list’ (an estimated 2.9 million are killed each year), with Eurasian Blackcap (1.8 million), Common Quail (1.6 million) and Song Thrush (1.2 million) making up the rest of the top four. A number of species already listed as ‘Near Threatened’ or ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List are also in danger, according to the review.
The review's publication comes as the British Birdwatching Fair gets underway today (Friday 21 August 2015) at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. It also marks the launch of BirdLife’s new Keeping the Flyway Safe fundraising campaign to help target resources for conservation in the worst affected locations.

Commenting on the publication, BirdLife International CEO, Patricia Zurita, said: “This review shows the gruesome extent to which birds are being killed illegally in the Mediterranean. Populations of some species that were once abundant in Europe are declining, with a number even in free-fall and disappearing altogether.”

“Our birds deserve safer flyways – concluded BirdLife’s CEO - and we want conservation efforts to be increased now, before it’s too late.”

The data in the review previews a scientific paper due to be published soon giving a full assessment of the situation in the Mediterranean.

How tracking one turtle dove could help save its whole species

How tracking one turtle dove could help save its whole species

By Jamie Wyver, Wed, 05/08/2015 - 08:38

In a first for UK science, a European Turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) has been tracked by satellite tagging as it travelled 11,200km from Suffolk in England to Mali, Africa, and back again.
Flying mostly under the cover of darkness, the bird, named Titan, flew 500-700 kilometres a night across epic landscapes such as the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Cádiz, visiting Senegal, Morocco and Spain en route. His maximum speed was 60km per hour.

Titan was fitted with a small, lightweight satellite tag in Suffolk in summer 2014 by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science. Since then, Titan is playing a vital role in solving a serious conservation problem: how to prevent the rapid loss of his species from across Europe.

Turtle doves have recently been up listed to ‘Vulnerable’ status on the 2015 European red list, with their population plummeting by 77% across the continent since 1980. In fact, the disappearance of these birds is happening so rapidly that their numbers in the UK are halving every six years. If the decline continues at this rate, the species may be lost as a breeding bird in the UK within the next couple of decades.

In the UK, the number of breeding attempts per turtle dove pair halved between the 1960s and the late 1990s, which on its own can explain the population decline of UK breeding turtle doves. The RSPB is working on the premise that due to changes in agricultural practices, the availability of favoured weed seeds has declined, leading to reduced annual productivity. We are working with farmers to make the most of agri-environment schemes that support provision of hedges and scrub for nesting, and turtle-dove foraging plots: areas sown and managed specifically for the birds.

fitted with a tag

fitted with a tag

After being fitted with the tag, Titan remained in Suffolk until the end of September, when he headed through France into Spain and finally into Africa, going from Mauritania to Senegal and settling in Mali, where he spent the winter.

On migration, many turtle doves fly over the Mediterranean, a danger zone because of the hunting of turtle doves here. When Titan first entered this region, the legal hunting seasons in France and Spain were in full swing. Estimates suggest that around one million birds are killed across the western European flyway each autumn.

But this is only one of many challenges migratory birds face, and not all make it. RSPB researchers fitted two turtle doves with satellite tags in 2014. However, only Titan made it successfully to the wintering grounds in Africa and back again.

There are many factors in Africa that could play a part in the alarming decline of turtle doves as well, such as a lack of reliable sources of food and water and limited suitable roosting sites. Africa has seen significant agricultural expansion and intensification, as well as desertification, in recent decades.

Tracking Titan on his journey has given the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science valuable information, including the route taken, resting points and lengths of stays at those points, which will help understand where to target conservation efforts.
To encourage international collaboration on a plan to save turtle doves, the RSPB helped organise a symposium and round table event at the European Ornithologists Union conference this August to bring together academics and conservationists from across the species’ range at a flyway scale. Add to that, BirdLife International launched a new three-year EU LIFE+ funded project in April 2015 to identify the conservation needs of turtle doves (along with another 15 species) and to develop an International Species Action Plan.

There are also widespread efforts to ‘regreen’ the Sahel belt where turtle doves overwinter, which may bring back some of the roosting sites they need.

Titan finally left Mali on 19 May, and made swift progress through Mauritania and Algeria, arriving in Morocco on 24 May. Having just crossed the 2,000 km of the Sahara, he spent about two weeks resting in Morocco before crossing into Europe on 6 June. Passing through Spain and France, he finally returned to the UK, ending his journey very close to the spot he was first tagged a year earlier.

Brave efforts pay off in doubly-successful project to restore colonies of Chinese Crested Tern

Brave efforts pay off in doubly-successful project to restore colonies of Chinese Crested Tern

Chinese Crested Tern Thalasseus bernsteini is one of the rarest birds in the world. Only rediscovered 15 years ago, after its assumed extinction for six decades, this Critically Endangered seabird has a very small population size and only three breeding sites are known.

But the BirdLife International Partnership including the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (BirdLife Partner), are proud to announce the wonderful news that the Chinese Crested Tern has had its most successful breeding season since its rediscovery, thanks to a project to restore a breeding colony on Tiedun Dao, in the Jiushan Islands – where over 70% the global population (at least 52 birds) were attracted and stayed to breed!

Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of BirdLife Asia Division, braved a severe typhoon to ensure the colony’s breeding success: for the second year running he physically stayed on the island throughout the season to monitor and protect the birds, and dissuade illegal egg-collectors.
Also as part of this successful project, conservation groups and volunteers from mainland China, Hong Kong and USA successfully initiated the first ever tagging operation of Chinese Crested Tern and other seabirds on Jiushan Islands, where 31 birds were fitted with numbered bands on their legs so more can be learned about the species in order to continue to save them from extinction.
As a result, at least 25 breeding pairs of Chinese Crested Tern formed and at least 16 chicks hatched and successfully fledged. The >52 birds were attracted to this safe nesting site by the team’s decoys and sound playback system as in 2013 and 2014. In addition, 2015 is the first year that birds have been attracted to all three known breeding sites: the Jiushan Islands and the Wuzhishan Islands of Zhejiang Province, and the Mazu Islands along the coast of Fujian Province each having successful breeding records, as compared to only the Jiushan Islands in 2014.

Chinese Crested Tern is listed as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International as the authority on birds for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, now has an estimated population of less than 100 individuals. Taking the figure of 13 (minimum estimation) chicks fledged from Tiedun Dao in 2014, within two to three years the number of breeding Chinese Crested Terns could have doubled from the original number when project was initiated in 2010 – when the global population was no more than 50 birds!

The thoughts of the colony were paramount in Simba Chan’s mind when a super-typhoon hit Tiedun Dao in the midst of the breeding season:

“Although the typhoon was very strong and hit us directly, less than 5% of the colony were casualties because we maintained vegetation to shelter the colony, and tried to discourage the chicks from moving down to the shore before the typhoon hit the island. This shows how we could apply our scientific observations from the previous year to improve the survival rate of the terns.”

A Partnership of hope for Chinese Crested Tern and more

Initiated by the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History and the Wild Bird Society of Zhejiang in 2010, the project shows the benefit of a team of partners working to secure the future of this species.

“The main reasons for the success of the project are sound scientific methodology, good planning, and commitment from all sides,” says Simba Chan.

The decoys and audio playback technology to attract the birds to the safe island were developed by Dr Stephen Kress of Cornell University and the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA) and proved very effective from the outset.

Regarding follow-up work, Simba Chan added: “This year, we will work with Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia) to promote awareness at potential wintering sites for the recovery of these birds. Suitable transmitters are being considered for tracking the migration of Chinese and Greater Crested Terns in the coming years to reveal their migratory route.”

“We also aim to encourage cooperation between China and other countries in Asia for joint actions in seabird study and conservation”,

said Vivian Fu, Assistant Manager BirdLife/Hong Kong Bird Watching Society China Programme.

The regular monitoring and banding of terns was documented by China Central Television. The documentary will be shown throughout China on major television channels in late 2015 and will bring a greater awareness of bird conservation among the general public in China – important for all the depleted seabird populations along China’s coast.

“The restoration project is not only important to save Chinese Crested Terns from extinction, but also has significance to wildlife conservation in China,” said Simba Chan.

“It has clearly shown local communities have a strong wish to revert the dire situation of many endangered species.”

The Chinese Crested Tern restoration project was initiated by the first international seabird symposium in China in 2010. After the abandonment of breeding colony of Chinese Crested Tern on the Jiushan Islands because of illegal egg-collection in 2007, the Wild Bird Society of Zhejiang and the Xiangshan Government worked with BirdLife on a public awareness programme to stop seabird egg collection and consumption. Ground work started using decoys and audio attraction in 2013 to bring the birds back and was very successful from the start.

The project consists of a team of partners working together to save the Chinese Crested Tern from extinction: the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, the Wild Bird Society of Zhejiang, BirdLife International, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (BirdLife Partner), and the tern restoration team from Oregon State University.

This project was only made possible with the generous support of the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, the Endangered Species Fund from the State Forestry Administration of China, and the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme supporter Mark Constantine.

The Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau and the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History also provided significant logistical support which helped make the project such a resounding success.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2015 |  World Bird News August 2015

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