World Bird News October 2014

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2014 |  World Bird News October 2014

New report reveals scale of declines of UK migratory birds wintering in Africa

New report reveals scale of declines of UK migratory birds wintering in Africa

By Martin Fowlie, Thu, 16/10/2014 - 15:53 Yellow Wagtails have declined in the UK by 43% since 1995 (Andy Hay; rspb-images.com)

The migration of millions of birds across the face of the planet is one of nature’s greatest annual events. Every spring some species move in one direction, while every autumn those same species move in the opposite one, very often linking continents.

Although these migration patterns are as regular as the seasons, monitoring is revealing that, for some species, fewer birds are making the journey each season as the populations of these birds, including species nesting in the UK, are declining rapidly.

The latest in the annual series of State of the UK’s Birds report includes a migratory birds section, including trends for 29 migrant species which nest in the UK in summer and spend the winter around the Mediterranean, or in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. For the first time the recent population trends for these migratory species have been combined into an indicator revealing some marked differences between species that winter in different areas.

Species, such as Whinchat, Common Nightingale, Tree Pipit and Spotted Flycatcher, which winter in the humid zone of Africa – stretching across the continent from southern Senegal to Nigeria and beyond - show the most dramatic declines: the indicator for this group of species has dropped by just over 70% since the late 1980s. This contrasts with species, such as Sand martin, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler, wintering in the arid zone (just below the Sahara desert). These species have fluctuated considerably since 1970, but show a less than 20% decline overall.

One of the most dramatic declines is that of the European Turtle-dove with a decline of 88% since 1995. The following species have also declined over the same period: Wood Warbler, 66%; European Pied Flycatcher, 53%; Spotted Flycatcher, 49%; Common Cuckoo, 49%; Common Nightingale, 43%; and Yellow Wagtail, 43%.

Concern about migratory bird species is growing and future editions of the State of the UK’s Birds report will contain a regular update to the migratory bird indicator. To understand the changing status of the UK’s migratory birds, researchers need to understand more about what’s driving these declines. Evidence is currently being gathered from a variety of sources including tracking studies and on-the-ground surveys.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: 'West Africa is the winter home for many species bird species that breed in the UK. But many of these birds that cross continents are in rapid decline. Their nomadic lifestyle, requiring sites and resources spread over vast distances across the globe makes identifying and understanding the causes of decline extremely complex.

'The problems may be in the UK or in West Africa, or indeed on migration in between the two.'

David Noble, Principal Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said: 'We can accurately monitor the patterns of decline in these once-familiar summer breeders thanks to several decades of careful observations by an army of volunteer birdwatchers. More recently, tracking devices have shed light on migratory routes and key wintering areas.

'To take appropriate action, further study is needed to determine the pressures faced in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as breeding here in the UK.'

Colette Hall, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Species Monitoring Officer, said: 'The length of many bird migrations – often thousands of miles – makes it very difficult to pinpoint where and what is causing populations to fall.

'So the more information we can get all along the migration routes – on land use changes, new infrastructure etc - the better we can target protection measures. It’s important that we help build up the capacity of local bird organisations and volunteers across the world to provide vital information through their own long-term monitoring.'

Alan Law, Director of Biodiversity Delivery at Natural England said: 'It is self-evident that effective conservation of a migratory species requires appropriate measures to be in place at each step of the migratory cycle.

'For some species, there is growing evidence of pressure on breeding success here in England. Our focus therefore is to ensure that well-managed habitats are available in this country so that migratory species can breed here successfully; this work involves close collaboration with land managers both on designated conservation sites and across the wider farmed countryside.'

David Stroud, Senior Ornithologist with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said: 'Migratory birds depend on conservation actions in all the countries they move through in the course of their annual cycle.

'The UK is working with these countries to help improve the condition of their critical habitats through its participation in multi-lateral environmental agreements such as the Biodiversity Convention and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.'

The State of the UK’s Birds report also covers the UK’s Overseas Territories. The latest evidence reveals mixed fortunes for two important albatross populations in the UK’s Overseas Territories. Seventy per cent of the world’s Black-browed Albatrosses nest in the Falkland Islands. A population increase here has allowed researchers to downgrade the extinction threat of this species from Endangered to Near Threatened. Sadly, the fortunes of the Grey-headed Albatross has deteriorated as declines have been reported in nesting colonies on South Georgia, which hosts half the world’s population.

The State of the UK’s Birds report is published by a partnership of eight organisations: RSPB; British Trust for Ornithology; Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust; Natural Resources Wales; Natural England; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; Scottish Natural Heritage; and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Climate change threatens 314 North American bird species

Climate change threatens 314 North American bird species

By Martin Fowlie, Tue, 09/09/2014 - 11:22

Climate change threatens nearly half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada, including the Bald Eagle and dozens of other species like the Common Loon, Baltimore Oriole and Brown Pelican, according to a new study published by National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the U.S.A.).

The study identifies 126 species that will lose more than 50% of their current ranges – in some cases up to 100% – by 2050, with no possibility of moving elsewhere if global warming continues on its current trajectory. A further 188 species face more than 50% range loss by 2080 but may be able to make up some of this loss if they are able to colonise new areas. These 314 species include many not previously considered at risk. The report indicates that numerous extinctions are likely if global temperature increases are not stopped.

“It’s a punch in the gut. The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming”, said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the investigation. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds – and the rest of us – depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and for us.”

“The prospect of such staggering loss is horrific, but we can build a bridge to the future for America’s birds, ,said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “This report is a roadmap, and it’s telling us two big things: We have to preserve and protect the places birds live, and we have to work together to reduce the severity of global warming.”

Langham and other Audubon ornithologists analysed 30 years of North American climate data and tens of thousands of historical bird observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey to understand the links between where birds live and the climatic conditions that support them. Understanding those links allows scientists to project where birds are likely to be able to survive – and not survive – in the future.

While some species will be able to adapt to shifting climates, many of North America’s most familiar and iconic species will not. The national symbol of the United States, the Bald Eagle, could see its current summer range decrease by nearly 75% in the next 65 years. The Common Loon, icon of the north and state bird of Minnesota, may no longer be able to breed in the lower 48 states by 2080. The Baltimore Oriole, state bird of Maryland and mascot for Baltimore’s baseball team, may no longer nest in the Mid-Atlantic, shifting north instead to follow the climatic conditions it requires. Other state birds at risk include Brown Pelican (Louisiana), California Gull (Utah), Hermit Thrush (Vermont), Mountain Bluebird (Idaho and Nevada), Ruffed Grouse (Pennsylvania), Purple Finch (New Hampshire) and Wood Thrush (Washington, D.C.).

“We know that climate variables – including temperature and precipitation – determine where most birds live and where they don’t, because it is too hot, for example,” said Terry Root, a Nobel Prize-winning Stanford University professor who serves on Audubon’s board of directors but was not involved in the study. “The Audubon study determined the climate variables that dictate where all North American birds live today and then brilliantly used climate forecasts to project where birds will most likely occur in the future. We all will see the effects of changing climate in our own backyards. We just cannot ignore such a sobering wake-up call.”

"This new North American study is consistent with results from Europe, Africa and Asia showing that climate change will have profound impacts on the world’s birds, with many more species projected to be in trouble than benefiting", said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Head of Science.

"But it also points towards the actions that are needed to help wildlife adapt to a changing environment, including the urgent need to strengthen effective conservation of the world’s 12,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas: the global network of sites that are critical for the conservation of birds and other wildlife."

Ten birds that could lose 99% or more of current range by 2080

American Avocet
Black Rosy-Finch
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Chestnut-collared Longspur
Black-necked Grebe
Northern Gannet
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Trumpeter Swan
White-headed Woodpecker
Yellow Rail

The study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has numerous implications for conservation, public policy and further research and provides a new suite of tools for scientists, conservationists, land managers and policy makers. For example, the study identifies “strongholds,” areas that will remain stable for some birds even as climate changes and are candidates for protection and management.

Audubon has launched a new web portal dedicated to understanding the links between birds and global warming, including animated maps and photographs of the 314 species at risk, a technical report, and in-depth stories from the September-October issue of Audubon magazine, which is also devoted to the topic.

“Millions of people across the country will take this threat personally because birds matter to them”, said Yarnold. “For bird lovers, this issue transcends nasty political posturing; it’s a bird issue. And we know that when we do the right things for birds, we do the right things for people too. Everyone can do something, from changing the plants in their backyard to working at the community and state level to protect the places birds will need to survive and promote clean energy. We are what hope looks like to a bird.”

Fishing fleets in Argentina agree to use devices to stop albatross deaths

By Shaun Hurrell, Thu, 11/09/2014 - 15:03

A major trawl fishery in Argentina has just agreed to start trialling and test-using lines that scare birds away from the fishing equipment that has been causing the accidental death of species like the globally Near-Threatened Black-browed Albatross. This is great news for seabirds and the Albatross Task Force, who have successfully proven that bird-scaring lines would practically eliminate seabird mortality in the fishery.

Albatross Task Force instructor Nahuel Chavez</br>in Argentina preparing a bird-scaring line</br>(Aves Argentinas)Albatross Task Force instructor Nahuel Chavez
in Argentina preparing a bird-scaring line
(Aves Argentinas)

The formal decision, which will positively affect the fate of thousands of albatross per year was announced last night at an international meeting of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP) in Uruguay by the Argentinean delegates. The resolution had received unanimous approval by the Federal Fisheries Council, so over the next six months fishermen on the industrial vessels of the Argentinean factory trawl fleet will be casting bird-scaring lines as well as fishing nets off the back of their boats. If needed, they will refine bird-scaring line designs that will minimise any operational concerns for the crew before the measures become obligatory in the fishery.

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and many populations are now threatened with extinction. Last information from BirdLife International’s data and assessment for the IUCN Red List reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds. Of the 346 seabird species, 97 (28%) are globally threatened and nearly half of all seabird species are known or suspected to be experiencing population declines. The albatross family is especially imperilled with 15 of the 22 species currently threatened with extinction. One of the main factors that contribute to declining seabird populations is bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries.

The good news is that simple, practical measures exist that rapidly reduce seabird mortality once they are included in daily fishing operations. One of the most widely demonstrated measures for trawl fisheries is the bird-scaring line, which is deployed on either side of the vessel to create a physical barrier between the birds and the trawl cables that tow fishing nets. By preventing birds from colliding with the cables, bird-scaring lines keep birds from being struck and dragged under water. Our Albatross Task Force in South Africa recently won an award for reducing seabird mortality by 90% by using these bird-scaring lines.

In Argentina, the National Plan of Action to reduce seabird bycatch calls for the use of mitigation measures for trawl fisheries that have been tested and proven. The Albatross Task Force in Argentina's main objective is evaluating seabird mortality in different fleets. Through working with fishermen out at sea, they provide evidence and develop mitigation measures to reduce levels of seabird by-catch.

This news is great testament to their work, both out at sea and in governmental policy.

The Albatross Task Force in Argentina, hosted by Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in Argentina) has been working in conjunction with several government entities; the Subsecretaría de Pesca de la Nación, the Subsecretaría de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable, the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero and the Universidad de Mar del Plata plus non-governmental organisation Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina.

Seventeen out of 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction. The main threat to albatrosses is death at the end of a hook on a fishing long-line.

Working closely with BirdLife Partners, we're working to stop the needless slaughter of these amazing birds and bring them back from the brink of extinction.

The Albatross Task Force is an initiative lead by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) for the BirdLife International Partnership.

Violence in Malta: BirdLife volunteers attacked by extremists protesting against hunting ban

By Luca Bonaccorsi, Fri, 26/09/2014 - 09:06

The ban was imposed by the government in an apparent move to back the designation of Vella as Commissioner for the Environment and try to silence criticisms

BirdLife Europe strongly condemns the unacceptable acts of violence over the weekend in Malta that have seen BirdLife Malta volunteers physically attacked by a mob that split out of a demonstration contesting the decision of Maltese authorities to suspend the hunting season. The decision, taken after a series of poaching incidents, has provoked an angry backlash from extremist elements within the Maltese hunting community, which has mostly distanced itself from both poaching and the mob violence. BirdLife Calls on Maltese authorities to step up their efforts to restore the rule of law and to provide adequate protection to volunteers studying bird migration and monitoring illegal activities.

The recent dramatic events in Malta accentuate BirdLife’s questions over the decision by the newly nominated President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to assign the environment portfolio to a Maltese Commissioner, and mandate him to “overhaul” the Birds Directive. Commissioner designate Vella will have to convince MEPs that he won’t be using his new position to weaken EU nature protection in order to make life easier for his government.

Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at BirdLife, commented: “We raised the issue from the very moment of Vella’s designation by Juncker. It’s not a thing against Malta or the Maltese: the point is that Juncker is wrong about the need to overhaul the laws that protect nature in Europe. And on top of that he has given the mandate to do so to a politician that comes from a government, and a country, that has serious problems in dealing with poachers and violations of nature laws.”

Biosfera I and conservation of the near threatened Cape Verde Shearwater

Biosfera I and conservation of the near threatened Cape Verde Shearwater

Story by Tommy Melo

Biosfera I, a national non-governmental organisation for the protection of the environment in Cape Verde is working hard to save the Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii.

Founded in 2006, the organisation started carrying out activities to stop the persecution of Cape Verde Shearwater, mainly the hunting of chicks forfood.. Killed in their thousands every year, the species has been harvested for a long time and is part of the traditional Cape Verdean gastronomy. This harvesting has led to the decline of the species which is listed now as Near Threatened by BirdLife. To address this threat, Biosfera has been working with local communities (especially fishermen) at Raso and Branco Islets (where 75% of the population of shearwater nest) with the aim of conserving the species. The Cape Verde Shearwater takes between 6-7 years to reach sexual maturity and to help reach this stage of it life cycle, Biosfera has invested a lot of time and energy to protect the chicks which are now returning to nest in Raso. With the support from the CMB project (a BirdLife project funded by MAVA) and the Alcyon project (Supported by FIBA), a team is in place to monitor and track the species with the collaboration of local communities and former hunters to cover even the remote areas.

The result of this awareness raising of the threats to the shearwater, is helping the local communities and former hunters to gain a better understanding of the importance of the species. To boost the ongoing actions, a Species Action Plan (SAP) for the conservation of Cape Verde Shearwater is in preparation and a workshop for the SAP has been planned before the end of the year.

Number of vulture deaths per meal reduced by a two thirds since deadly drug ban, says new study

By Martin Fowlie, Tue, 14/10/2014 - 12:29

The number of vultures dying from diclofenac contamination in India has reduced by more than two thirds between 2005 and 2009, according to a new study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (B) on the risk and impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Since the banning of the vulture-toxic veterinary drug in India in 2006, the number of livestock carcasses found containing the drug has halved. However, experts say that 6% of carcasses are still contaminated with diclofenac, despite its use to treat livestock now being illegal.

Scientists sampled thousands of cattle carcasses dumped in the open and therefore available to vultures throughout India between 2004 and 2010. They found that in 2009, the proportion of carcasses positive for diclofenac was 49% lower than four years earlier. Using this data, in conjunction with data on vulture feeding behaviour, scientists calculated that this equated to 65% fewer vultures dying per meal.

A decade ago, three species of South Asian vulture faced near-extinction because of widespread use of diclofenac to treat livestock, the carcasses of which were their main food source. One species, the oriental White-rumped Vulture, declined by more than 99.9% in just 15 years. However, vulture populations are now showing the first signs of recovery. A significant juncture in their plight happened when the governments of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh banned veterinary diclofenac between 2006 and 2010.

Dr Toby Galligan, Conservation Scientist and BirdLife's UK Partner and co-author of this study, said: “The findings of our study are both good news and bad news. The good news is that veterinary use of diclofenac in India has decreased significantly; the bad news is that it has not stopped completely.

“This is because Indian pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing diclofenac for human use in vials large enough to treat livestock; and some veterinarians and livestock owners continue to choose diclofenac over the vulture-safe alternative, meloxicam.

“Six per cent of livestock carcasses remain contaminated with diclofenac, which equates to 1 in 200 vultures dying from diclofenac poisoning every time they feed. This might not sound like much, but we know that the death of 3 in 200 vultures per meal was enough to have caused the catastrophic declines."

The study strengthens the case for a ban on large vials of diclofenac in South Asia, which will make livestock-sized doses of diclofenac more expensive and more convoluted to administer without impacting human healthcare. Vulture conservationists think that this additional ban will stop the illegal misuse of human diclofenac to treat livestock.

Dr Galligan continued: “We’ve come so far and this is turning into one of the biggest conservation success stories ever – an additional South Asia-wide ban on diclofenac in vials larger than 3ml will contribute greatly to the recovery of vultures.”

Despite ample evidence for the impact diclofenac has had in South Asia, last year veterinary diclofenac was approved for manufacture and use in Italy and Spain and has since been distributed to other European countries. A coalition of conservation organisations, including BirdLife Partners in Spain and Italy, with the support of European Union representatives and members of the public are campaigning for this decision to be reversed. In response, the European Commission has asked the European Medicines Agency to assess the risk diclofenac poses to Europe’s scavenging raptors. They will present their findings at the end of November.

In another article, published online last week in the Journal Conservation Biology, a Spanish-British-American team show residue of the drug flunixin and renal failure in a dead Eurasian griffon in Spain. Flunixin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like diclofenac and meloxicam. This is the first case of flunixin poisoning a vulture and the first case of a European vulture being exposed to a NSAID.

Dr Galligan continued: “Europe, particularly Spain, is home to significant populations of vultures and eagles, which are now at risk of declines due to diclofenac contamination of their food. Our opponents claim that Europe is different to South Asia, but it is not – in both regions vultures are provided livestock carcasses, either in the field or at carcass dumping sites; and, as our colleagues have shown, in both regions vultures are exposed to NSAIDs. The European Commission needs to recognise this problem and impose a continent-wide ban on veterinary diclofenac and other vulture-toxic NSAIDs.”

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2014 |  World Bird News October 2014

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