World Bird News June 2012

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First-Ever “State of Canada’s Birds” Report Released

First-Ever “State of Canada’s Birds” Report Released

The Canadian BirdLife International co-partners Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada are pleased to announce the release of the first-ever State of Canada’s Birds report. The report draws on 40 years of data to present an overview of how Canada’s birds are faring. It summarizes the status of Canada’s bird populations for eight regions, including the boreal forest, prairies, Arctic, and oceans.

The report shows that Canada’s bird populations have been dramatically influenced by human activity, and finds that there are fewer birds now than in the 1970s. Overall, more species are decreasing (44% of species in Canada) than increasing (33%). Some groups have severely declined, including grassland birds, migratory shorebirds, and aerial insectivores (birds that catch insects in flight).

Other species have increased as a result of successful conservation efforts. The ban on pesticides in the 1970s has helped raptors like the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, and Bald Eagle recover. Effective management of wetlands has aided waterfowl (ducks and geese).

Birds are crucial indicators of ecosystem health. Changes in bird populations signal changes in the ecosystems we depend on for vital environmental services such as food, clean air, and water.

“This report is unprecedented. Its findings are both troubling and inspiring,” said Bird Studies Canada’s President George Finney. “Partnerships, increased investment, Citizen Scientists, and the volunteer programs offered by Bird Studies Canada and our partners have contributed immensely to our conservation goals for some species. We need to build on these existing efforts, as it is clear that many other species are in serious trouble. A world without birds is not an option.”

“The State of Canada’s Birds report is a measurable indicator of how well we are fulfilling our shared responsibility as stewards of our nation’s wildlife and wilderness areas,” said Ian Davidson, Executive Director of Nature Canada. “Clearly there is much we can do to ensure we have healthy ecosystems for years to come, and this report provides a path to do so.”

The State of Canada’s Birds report is a collaborative effort of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative partners in Canada, whose members include Environment Canada, Bird Studies Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Wildlife Habitat Canada.

Hooded Grebe Appeal – Action on breeding grounds already delivering results

Hooded Grebe Appeal – Action on breeding grounds already delivering results

In January this year Birdlife launched an international online appeal to save the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi as a new BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme initiative, building on earlier support provided by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation as part of BirdLife’s High Andean wetlands initiative. Birdlife are delighted to report today that conservation actions undertaken earlier this year are already delivering results.

Hooded Grebe is endemic as a breeding species to Santa Cruz province in Southern Argentina and is now so threatened it has been uplisted to Critically Endangered in this year’s IUCN Red List update.

Previous research has identified that the main threats to Hooded Grebe are nest predation by an increasing population of Kelp Gulls Larus dominicanus; predation of adults by introduced American Mink Neovison vison; predation and competition for food resources from alien Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss; loss of breeding sites through sedimentation as a result of land erosion caused by overgrazing; and breeding failure, due to increasingly strong winds, that are detaching floating nests from their moorings.

Black-capped Petrel may warrant protection under the endangered species act



A nocturnal seabird, the black-capped petrel, may warrant federal protection as a threatened or endangered species.

Endangered means the species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range; threatened means the species is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The black-capped petrel is found in North America and the Caribbean, and is known by several common names: “black-capped petrel,” “capped petrel,” and “West Indian petrel” in North America and on English-speaking islands. In the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the bird is known as “diablotín” (little devil). In Cuba, the bird also is referred to as “bruja” (witch).

This decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, is based on scientific information about the species presented by WildEarth Guardians in a petition to list the species and designate critical habitat, as well as information found in Service files at the time the petition was received. The Service will now conduct a thorough status review of the species to determine whether the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (Act).

“This finding does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to list the black-capped petrel,” said Edwin Muñiz, Field Supervisor for the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office. “The 90-day finding is the first step in a process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available.”

”We are encouraging the public to submit any relevant information about the black-capped petrel and its habitat to us for consideration in the comprehensive review,” Muñiz said.

The black-capped petrel has a grey-brown back and wings, with a white nape and rump. The seabird’s underparts are mainly white apart from a black cap and some dark underwing markings. It picks food items such as squid from the ocean surface. The seabird nests in colonies on islands and are found at sea when not breeding.

Currently, there are only 13 known breeding colonies and an estimated 600 to 2,000 breeding pairs. While historically the black-capped petrel had breeding colonies throughout the Caribbean region, current breeding populations are known only on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and possibly Dominica and Martinique. The non-breeding range of the black-capped petrel is along the coast between North Carolina and Florida.

The black-capped petrel faces many potential threats to its continued existence, including human encroachment, deforestation, agricultural modification, offshore oil exploration and development, overuse from subsistence hunting, predation by introduced species, pollution, mercury bioaccumulation and inadequate regulatory mechanisms.

Predation by introduced species, such as Indian mongoose, Virginia opossum, feral cats, dogs, pigs, and rats also contributed to the decline and possible elimination of the species from multiple locations in the West Indies. Pollution, bioaccumulation of heavy metals, and oil spills potentially threaten the existence of the petrel as researchers have noted that the species has a mercury concentration seven to nine times higher than other similar seabirds.

Additionally, impacts specific to the black-capped petrels could include changes in habitat suitability, loss of nesting burrows washed out by rain or flooding, increased petrel strandings inland during storm events, and increased risk from animal-borne disease.

Because the Service finds that the petition presents substantial information indicating that listing the black-capped petrel may be warranted, the agency is initiating a status review to determine whether listing the black-capped petrel under the Act is warranted.

To ensure this status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting information from state and federal natural resource agencies and all interested parties regarding the black-capped petrel and its habitat.

Based on the status review, the Service will make one of three possible determinations:

(1) Listing is not warranted, in which case no further action will be taken.

(2) Listing as threatened or endangered is warranted. In this case, the Service will publish a proposal to list, solicit independent scientific peer review of the proposal, seek input from the public, and consider the input before a final decision about listing the species is made.

(3) Listing is warranted but precluded by other, higher priority activities. This means the species is added to the federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred while the Service works on listing proposals for other species that are at greater risk. A warranted but precluded finding requires subsequent annual reviews of the finding until such time as either a listing proposal is published, or a not warranted finding is made based on new information.

Saving Asia’s rarest bunting

Rufous-backed Bunting Emberiza jankowskii was once common on grassland with scattered Siberian apricot scrub across North East China, to Russia and North Korea. But because of conversion of its breeding habitat to farmland, by the late 1990s it was assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

This little-known passerine continued to decline at an even more rapid rate, and was uplisted to Endangered in 2010; making it Asia’s rarest bunting. It is now known to exist only at a few pockets of shrubby grassland along the border between Jilin Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in China.

Prof Wang Haitao from the North-east Normal University, Changchun, Jilin Province, gives an estimated population of about 250 birds for all known sites. Although some populations may remain to be discovered, very few have been recorded during extensive ornithological surveys by the Beijing Bird Watching Society (aided by the Oriental Bird Club, the BirdLife International China Programme and the RSPB, BirdLife in the UK) and other survey teams.

One of the last known populations is at Tumuji National Nature Reserve in eastern Inner Mongolia, which was established for conservation of the Great Bustard Otis tarda in 1996; with support from BirdLife Partner the Wild Bird Society of Japan. The lands were already leased to private entrepreneurs, which makes law enforcement and conservation complicated. Livestock grazing and forage harvesting during the breeding season have not yet been totally controlled, even in core areas of the reserve.

BirdLife International organised the first conservation workshop at Tumuji in June, 2012, inviting relevant conservation and research organisations in China to discuss an emergency plan to save this species. Officials from the Ke’erqin (or Horqin) National Nature Reserve, also in eastern Inner Mongolia, were invited, because of the recent discovery of a population of buntings on leased grassland nearby.

The workshop agreed a communication network to be established among conservation organisations, researchers and reserve managers, for monitoring and new discoveries. As this is a little-known species that enjoys very limited protection in China, education material such as posters and booklets targeting the general public and government officers will be published by mid-2013. Surveys for unknown populations will continue at sites with suitable habitats.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is protection and management of the sites where the bunting still exists, including restoration of the Siberian apricot shrub habitat. This will require greater support from local governments. A conservation action plan must be drafted, and more financial support secured.

But there is already some good news. At the site visit to Ke’erqin National Nature Reserve, Mr Wang Tiejun, a land leaser, announced that he was willing to give up his benefits and preserve the apricot scrub for the Rufous-backed Bunting, after learning of the importance of this species.

“With a better awareness and education programme, we hope more people will be joining Mr Wang”, said Simba Chan, BirdLife’s Conservation Officer in Asia.

Beck’s pulls in at the petrel station

A BirdLife International survey in southern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, has encountered the largest single aggregation of Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki, ever recorded. Upwards of 100 birds were estimated to be present at one location, with a single count recording 58 birds. For a seabird species lost to science for 79 years until its rediscovery in 2007 these vital new data offer a glimmer of hope.

“There was huge excitement from everyone involved as the first bird banked past our small boat. That turned into amazement as we counted more and more across the horizon”, said Jez Bird – the project leader from BirdLife International. “These findings give us momentum, and some important clues to take the conservation of Beck’s Petrel forward.”

Until recently, Beck’s Petrel was only known from two specimens: a female taken at sea east of New Ireland,Papua New Guinea in 1928, and a male taken in the Solomon Islands in 1929. Its rediscovery in July and August 2007, was made when an expedition encountered the species on seven days and at at-least four localities off New Ireland. Beck’s Petrel is listed as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List because it is thought to have a global population of fewer than 250 mature individuals that is believed to be declining.

The principal aim of this recent survey was to gather clues as to the likely whereabouts of the species’ breeding grounds which are yet to be located. Petrels as a group face numerous threats, both at sea and when they come to land to breed. Arguably the most significant comes from introduced mammalian predators which predate adults and chicks in their nesting burrows.

“Identifying exactly where Beck’s Petrel is breeding is an essential precursor to assessing impacts that threats are having on the species, and implementing targeted conservation actions to address them”, said Jez Bird.

One important feature of the survey is that it didn’t use ‘chum’ to attract the birds. The earlier rediscovery of Beck’s Petrel and subsequent sightings have used this mix of fish discards and fish oil to concentrate birds from the surrounding area. It’s an extremely effective attractant but as a result it can yield a biased impression of a species’ true abundance in an area.

“To see so many Beck’s Petrels without the stimulus of chum is unprecedented”, noted Jez. “Typically these birds are solitary at sea and are encountered far offshore. A gathering like this, so close to land, while not definitive, strongly indicates that they are breeding nearby”.

As well as actively searching for the birds, the survey involved numerous consultations with local coastal communities. Petrels were and are frequently harvested in the Pacific, and fear of their eerie night-time calls often lead villages to establish taboo areas in the forest where entry is prohibited. Intriguingly no-one locally knew Beck’s Petrel when presented with pictures and there was no knowledge of any nesting areas locally. This, and the apparent abundance of certain petrel predators like wild pigs in coastal and foothill forest suggests they are most likely to be breeding in montane areas, consistent with what is already known of similar species.

The concentration of birds encountered in this survey was seen at the mouth of a large bay, sitting directly below New Ireland’s highest peak (at over 2,000 m), Mt Agil. The bay offers the shortest straight line distance to the summit. A focus of future work will be to spot-light at night for birds returning to nesting burrows on the mountain, a technique that has proven effective in surveying threatened petrels elsewhere.

“This is fantastic news for this Critically Endangered species. Hopefully further surveys will be able to build on these results and confirm the location and size of breeding colonies, which will enable us to begin targeted conservation action”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer.

This survey, kindly supported by the Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Global Greengrants Fund have responded to those priorities, implementing key research actions for this Critically Endangered species as part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. It represents BirdLife’s first project in Papua New Guinea, working alongside local conservation organisation Ailan Awareness.

Threat to the Amazon’s birds greater than ever, Red List update reveals

The risk of extinction has increased substantially for nearly 100 species of Amazonian birds, reveals the 2012 IUCN Red List update for birds released by BirdLife International. The new assessment is based on models projecting the extent and pattern of deforestation across the Amazon.

“We have previously underestimated the risk of extinction that many of Amazonia’s bird species are facing”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “However, given recent weakening of Brazilian forest law, the situation may be even worse than recent studies have predicted.”

Of particular concern are longer-lived species, such as Rio Branco Antbird Cercomacra carbonaria, for which even moderate rates of deforestation can be important. Some species, such as Hoary-throated Spinetail Synallaxis kollari, appear likely to lose more than 80% of their habitat over the coming decades and have been placed in the highest category of extinction risk – Critically Endangered.

The 2012 update is a comprehensive review, undertaken every four years, of all the world’s over 10,000 bird species. The update shows worrying news not just from the tropics but in Northern Europe too, where over a million Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis have disappeared from the Baltic Sea over the last 20 years, resulting in the species being uplisted to Vulnerable. The reasons for this decline are still not clear but the fortunes of another sea duck, Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca are even worse, with the species now being listed as Endangered.

“These figures are frightening. We’re pretty sure that the birds haven’t moved elsewhere, and the numbers represent a genuine population crash. The widespread nature of the declines point to the likelihood of environmental change across much of the arctic and sub-arctic regions where these species breed”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer.

In Africa, the White-backed and Rueppell’s Vultures, Gyps africanus and G. rueppellii, are mirroring the fate of their Asian cousins, with rapid declines linked to poisoning, persecution and habitat loss. Both species have been reclassified as Endangered. Their declines have much wider impacts, since vultures play a key role in food webs by feeding on dead animals.

However, not all the news is bad. Restinga Antwren Formicivora littoralis, a small bird from coastal, south-east Brazil, has been downlisted from Critically Endangered, as new surveys have found it to be more widely distributed than previously thought. Its future also looks more secure now owing to the creation of a new protected area covering its core distribution.

There are also examples of a species’ fate being turned around, despite almost insurmountable odds. In the Cook Islands of the Pacific, the sustained recovery Rar0tonga Monarch Pomarea dimidiata, once one of the world’s rarest birds, has led to it being downlisted to Vulnerable. Intensive conservation action, particularly through control of alien invasive predators like black rats, has saved the species from extinction. The bird’s population is now about 380 individuals, over ten times bigger than at its low point, although continued conservation efforts are required.

“Such successes show the remarkable achievements that are possible where effort and dedication by conservationists and local communities are backed up with political support and adequate resources,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research Coordinator.

“But the worrying projections for the Amazon emphasise the urgent need for governments to meet their international commitments by establishing comprehensive protected area networks that are adequately funded and effectively managed.”

“BirdLife are providing essential information to guide policy and conservation action for birds”, said Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “It is clear that conservation works, but this update shows that more action needs to be taken if we are to protect these magnificent species which play an integral role in maintaining healthy ecosystems which not only the birds, but ourselves, are dependent upon for our survival.”

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