World Bird News July 2015

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

The European Red List of Birds

The European Red List of Birds

By Lisa Benedetti, Wed, 03/06/2015 - 09:19

We have a few theories why the Dodo went extinct by 1700 on the island of Mauritius. Predation, habitat loss and invasive species were just too much for this friendly flightless creature. The truth is, unless we act now, many other species of bird could follow the Dodo’s sad journey to the museum shelf. But we can help stop this from happening with the knowledge of how specific bird populations are doing and what threats they face. For birds in Europe, BirdLife International has just given us a tool that does all this, the European Red List of Birds.

Out of some 10,000 known bird species in the world, about 530 species nest, winter, and call Europe home. Some have been able to adapt or even benefit from human activities (either directly or indirectly) but many others are really struggling to survive in this ever-changing world. The European Red List of Birds uses IUCN criteria to measure a species extinction risk and applies it at regional level, fine-tuning a global standard and digging deeper into the needs of individual European species.

What we present today is the fruit of years of labour from scientists, conservationists, policy makers, and people who simply care about birds. It’s the tool we can go to first to be sure that the birds we have in Europe today are here tomorrow as well. This list gives us the latest and best available information on the size and trends of populations and distributions of every regularly occurring wild bird species in Europe. It identifies the conservation status of species occurring not only across the entire European continent, but also the European Union (at the time of the assessment, 27 Member States <Actinic:Variable Name = 'EU27'/>) where key nature legislation applies, the Birds and Habitats Directives. These are the laws that have been protecting European nature and wildlife the last decades.

So what does the European Red List of Birds say?

It tells us that 13% of 533 species are threatened at a European level (of the 67 species, 10 are Critically Endangered (the highest threat level) including the Balearic Shearwater, Slender-billed Curlew, and Yellow-breasted Bunting; 18 are Endangered and 39 are Vulnerable). When looking at the EU27 level, 18% of 451 species are threatened (of the 82 species: 11 are Critically Endangered, including the Lesser White-fronted Goose and the Greater Spotted Eagle, 16 are Endangered and 55 are Vulnerable). We also discovered what the main culprits are for this situation, and that two stand out above the rest: illegal killing and land-use changes, especially on farmland. Other serious threats are climate change, pollution and invasive non-native species. Detailed information for each species can be found on BirdLife International's DataZone.

On the upside, since we last did a regional assessment in 2004, the status of some species has really improved. Charismatic birds like the Dalmatian Pelican, Lesser Kestrel, Arctic Loon and Great Bustard have made a comeback largely because of conservation efforts and legal protection. We even have news that the extinction risk for another 25 species is lower than a decade ago so we’ve been able to downlist these species, meaning their conservation status has improved. Zino’s Petrel and Azores Bullfinch may still be in trouble, but it’s a good sign that they have gone from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

On the down side, we’ve had to uplist 29 species since 2004. Species now in trouble include the once common European Turtle-dove, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Atlantic Puffin, and Willow Grouse. And sadly, some species like the Egyptian Vulture, Northern Lapwing and Little Bustard, have not improved at all. This situation clearly highlights the need for the strong legislation and strict protection that the Birds and Habitats Directives offers to give these birds a fighting chance.

Europeans have proven time and time again they can tackle some of the most urgent, challenging and complex conservation priorities they face. Now, with the European Red List of Birds in hand, we are ready to focus and deliver effective conservation action. But we still need your help. The European Commission is planning to dismantle the Bird and Habitats Directives, the very laws that have been protecting our birds and nature in Europe.

Troubled waters for our seabirds

Troubled waters for our seabirds

By Marguerite Tarzia, Fri, 26/06/2015 - 16:03

Did you know that we have 82 species of seabird in Europe? You probably recognise the most charismatic ones, like the clown faced Atlantic Puffin and sharp blue-eyed Northern Gannet. But there are many other species you may not know because they actually spend nearly their entire lives out at sea and so are rarely seen, only coming to our shores to breed before flying off again into the deep blue. Many of these species are in trouble, facing declines and possible extinction based on the latest scientific information. The current situation is clear: urgent action is needed so they don’t disappear from Europe forever.

Why is the fate of our seabirds so grim today? They have been facing multiple threats: climate change, which amongst other impacts can make it more difficult for seabirds to find food; they often risk being caught and killed accidentally in fishing gear; they are losing breeding and feeding habitat because of infrastructure on land and at sea; they are being preyed on by invasive rats, cats and foxes; and poisoned or choked by marine litter and oil pollution.

Across the European region, which extends from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and Black Sea, 15 seabird species are facing threats so severe that their populations are declining and could be on a slippery slope towards extinction. Another 9 seabirds are waiting in the wings, and although their risk of extinction from the region is a bit lower, they are edging dangerously close to the higher risk categories. In the EU this number is even more alarming, as 21 seabird species are considered to be facing a higher risk of extinction. How do we know this? Well, BirdLife Europe just completed a European-wide assessment for all bird species and produced the European Red List of Birds, the benchmark for identifying species most at risk of extinction from the continent.

Across Northern Europe many seabird breeding colonies which once held hundreds of thousands of birds are merely a sad shadow of their former selves. In some places, such as the island of Runde in Norway, vast cliffs which were once full of breeding Northern Fulmar have seen the species vanish entirely. Across Europe the Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffin and Black-legged Kittiwake are all in decline, and are now considered ‘Endangered’ either within the EU and/or across Europe. Seaducks, such as the Long-tailed Duck, Velvet Scoter, Common Eider and Common and Yellow-billed Loon are also faring poorly, ranked as ‘Vulnerable’ across Europe - with huge declines in the Baltic Sea. These seabirds dive below the waters surface to feed on prey along the sea floor and so are particularly susceptible of getting helplessly entangled in fishing nets. The Balearic Shearwater is one of Europe’s most threatened birds and their accidental capture in fishing gear has been contributing to driving numbers down to the extent that scientists predict that the species could be extinct within 60 years.

Before it’s too late for our seabirds, we must use the tools that we have to save them, including the EU Nature Directives and EU marine policies. Probably the most important, yet underutilized tool is the Natura 2000 network. This network of protected sites extends across the EU, yet up till now, very few sites have been designated at sea, and even fewer specifically for seabirds. EU countries are not doing enough for seabirds. Only 1% of our seas are currently protecting them. Also, whilst protecting a seabird during breeding is crucial, it’s only half the story, as most seabirds migrate and travel large distances during the year away from where they have their young. You can read about BirdLife’s assessment of each EU country’s progress here, and see for yourself how your country is doing.

Lines on maps will not bring seabirds back on their own, but with careful and effective management we can give European seabirds a fighting chance to claw, peck and soar their way back up that slippery slope away from extinction. Until then, BirdLife’s mantra on identifying, designating and managing Natura 2000 sites will continue.

Keeping an eye on Balearic Shearwater

By Pep Arcos, David García, Daniel Oro, Meritxell Genovart & Maite Louzao, Sat, 04/07/2015

It’s been over a decade that Balearic Shearwater has held the dangerous title ‘Critically Endangered’, which puts it at the very top of the European Red List of Birds. To make sure it doesn’t disappear before our very eyes requires some very careful monitoring at sea, where it spends most of its life, and also on land where it breeds. But so far we haven’t been doing enough to ensure the conservation of this species and if we wait any longer, we might notice too late that it’s gone forever.

Balearic Shearwater may not be the most colourful bird, it’s rather brownish and could be mistaken for a gull by an untrained eye, but it’s special. Only found as a breeder in the western Mediterranean’s Balearic Islands where it nests in caves, crevices and under rock boulders in inaccessible sea cliffs and small islets. We think there are just a little over 3,000 breeding pairs, and maybe a global population of about 25,000 individuals. It’s long lived, most likely some birds live over 30 years though we have no sound data on this, it begins mating at 3 years of age, and lays a single egg per year. Losing adult birds is therefore of serious concern, as they are not quickly or easily replaced. Unfortunately, the population has been steadily declining as a consequence of several threats, particularly fisheries bycatch at sea and predation by invasive species on land. This trend is alarming and scientists say it could become extinct in slightly over half a century.

Over the last decade, we’ve learned quite a lot about the Balearic Shearwater’s ecology at sea. Nearly all of its breeding colonies, plus the main Spanish marine hotspots, which were identified by SEO/BirdLife’s marine team have now been designated Special Protection Areas(SPAs) under the Birds and Habitats Directives. Rat eradication has been addressed in some colonies. This is all good but we need to do more to safeguard the species. For one, management plans for these SPAs haven’t been implemented, and wider conservation action at sea is also missing. Furthermore, despite being one of the priorities highlighted in theSpecies Action Plan, we still don’t have a proper breeding monitoring programme in place. Without monitoring, we cannot understand the dynamics of the population, and so updating its conservation status and assessing the suitability of conservation actions (e.g., reducing bycatch rates) are impossible or at least unreliable.

Two recent initiatives are trying to address the gap created by the lack of monitoring programmes, one in W Mallorca (where colony monitoring had already been conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s) and another in the southernmost of the Balearic Islands, Ibiza and Formentera. Here we describe the latter, where SEO/BirdLife is directly involved, working closely with researchers from AZTI-Tecnalia, IRBI and other institutions, with support from the Natural Reserves of West Ibiza Islets. Most of the work is in Sa Conillera islet, off west Ibiza, and it began in 2011, within the framework of Interreg Project FAME, in close collaboration with LPO and CEBC-CNRS. Geolocators have been placed on a number of birds so we can better understand their movements in the Atlantic outside the breeding period. They’ve also been GPS-tracked during the breeding period, which has allowed us to monitor their habits during breeding as well.

On top of monitoring movement, about 120 nests are checked at least twice each year in Sa Conillera and the islets of Es Bosc and Espartar, which are close by. First, during the incubation period, nest occupancy and identification (and ringing if required) of adults is done at each nest. Late in the season, nests are visited again to ring and find out which chicks have fledged. Surveys of other colonies are being conducted in parallel in other islets of Ibiza and Formentera, with particular attention to the Natural Park of Ses Salines. These efforts were also supported by another major project, LIFE+ INDEMARES, as well as the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) and the Ibiza Preservation Fund (IPF).

Monitoring is just one step forward to saving this Mediterranean jewel, the most threatened bird in Europe. But to be sure the species doesn’t vanish forever we must set up monitoring programmes in other Balearic Islands. Also, we can’t forget what happens at sea, because this is where this species spends most of its life. With this in mind, SEO/BirdLife and BirdLife Europe’s new European Seabird Task Force is now working with fishers to find ways to ensure they keep catching fish rather than seabirds.

Protecting birds in ‘tropical’ Europe

Protecting birds in ‘tropical’ Europe

By Sanya Khetani-Shah, Mon, 13/07/2015 - 11:46

Given the nature protection laws in the EU (the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive), it’s easy to believe that all European territories are well protected. But ironically, its overseas territories and départements, often teeming with biodiversity, are not covered by the EU’s environmental law framework. As a result, they are plagued by problems of invasive alien species, loss of habitat and extinction of endemic species.

Réunion Island, Martinique and French Guiana (all French overseas départements) are perfect examples. The Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), BirdLife’s Partner in France, has been working there with local ornithological partners to save endangered birds like Réunion Cuckooshrike (or Tuit Tuit) and the Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Le Coq de Roche Orange) through their five-year Life+Cap DOM programme, which concluded in a seminar in Paris on June 30-July 1 this year. This was the first Life+ project involving the creation of a network of local ornithological NGOs and the protection of fauna in the French overseas entities.

Réunion Cuckooshrike has been listed as Critically Endangered since 2008. Their numbers had dropped drastically due to predation by black rats, an invasive species that thrives on picnic remains. When the Life+ project began in 2010, there were only 27 pairs of the species in the world, all present in the Roche-Écrite Nature Reserve (now part of the Réunion National Park).

On islands like Réunion, species evolved without any predators or pathogenic agents, which left them particularly vulnerable to introduced predators. The extinction rate of bird species in Réunion is over 50%, and more than half the extinctions of island bird species are caused by the introduction of new predators.

Manual rat eradication in the core area of this site in the park, carried out all year round, with the Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de La Réunion (SEOR), the Réunion National Park and the National Forestry Commission, led to the number of birds increasing to 40 pairs in 2015, with over 92% of eggs laid successfully fledging chicks. The species’ breeding area has also been increasing by about 9% per year.

Réunion Marsh-harrier or ‘Papangue’ is the only bird of prey breeding and endemic to the Réunion Island. It is the last raptor nesting on the island. With less than 200 pairs remaining, it is an Endangered species. But despite this status, for years it has been killed illegally or kept in cages. Since it flies at a low altitude while hunting, it is prone to fatal collisions with electric cables. Feeding on rats poisoned by rodenticides also contributes to deaths.

To protect the species, not only were frameworks put into place after consultation with national and regional authorities, but a group of 77 volunteers – the Papangue SOS Brigade – was formed in 2012 to monitor the numbers of the species at three sites, report any hurt or poisoned bird, and create awareness among the local farmers, residents and veterinarians to the issue.

In French Guiana, the limited nesting sites of the striking Guianan Cock-of-the-rock are threatened because of their economic viability: gold mining, logging, poaching and illegal animal trade, and unregulated wildlife tourism.

Since the species is fruit-eating and primarily inhabits forests with caves, the Groupe d’Etude et de Protection des Oiseaux en Guyane is working with local tour operators and mining companies to provide information about the most sensitive areas for the Cock-of-the-rock. Tour operators have also been informed about the vulnerability of the species to visitor disturbance. Visitor tracks have been reoriented to enhance the viewing of the Cocks at their lek (breeding display site) and a hide put up to reduce disturbance by tourists.

Read more about the project, and view videos on

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

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