World Bird News September 2007

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Rediscovering the ‘smiling bird’

A string of recent sightings of one of South America’s most unusual and secretive birds is giving conservationists hope in regional efforts to save crucial habitat for this and other threatened species.
Having not been seen for over 40 years, hope was fading for Recurve-billed Bushbird Clytoctantes alixii. However, successive sightings from Venezuela in 2004 and then Colombia in 2005 and 2007, have led to renewed efforts to understand the distribution of a bird feared extinct by many. With a distinctive up-turned bill, this species gives the impression of having an enigmatic smile; however, it has evolved to rip open bamboo and small twigs to search for arthropods.
“These sightings really underline the importance of survey efforts: how one observation can be the starting point from which a bird –long thought extinct- can be shown to be of lower immediate conservation concern,” said Rob Clay, BirdLife International’s Americas Conservation manager.
In 2004, a four-man Rapid Assessment Programme team organised by Venezuela Audubon and the Phelps Collection and financed by Conservation International was the first to come face-to-face with the bird in the Venezuelan foothills of Sierra de Perijá and obtained the first known photos of the species. Shortly afterwards, in July 2005, the species was rediscovered in Colombia, when Oscar Laverde found two individuals at Agua de la Virgen, Santander, Colombia. More recent observations in Venezuela have shown that bushbirds also occur in secondary habitats.
“The local farmers were crucial to our fieldwork as they were the first observers of the bushbirds. It goes to show how important it is to include local knowledge in these kinds of surveys,” said Chris Sharpe of Provita, part of the team which originally rediscovered the species. The most recent sightings of Recurve-billed Bushbird came in April of this year in Colombia, at two new localities with no previous records. British birder, Dave Willis located a pair in a vegetated gully close to Colombian NGO ProAves's reserve in San Vicente de Chucuri, Santander. Meanwhile, Gabriel Colorado, found the species at a site in Antioquia Province, while working on bird surveys in dry forests for the regional environmental authority CORANTIOQUIA. This area is not only threatened by deforestation but also by the possible construction of the Pescadero-Ituango hydroelectric dam, on the Cauca River. If approved, the dam will be constructed in the next few years, and the area flooded.
Gabriel Colorado said “We are now able to explore and survey areas that were once politically unstable, allowing us to learn more about the distribution of this and other rare species. Unfortunately, many threats exist for this new population, meaning we must act now in order to save it”.

“Alarm-call” for China’s rarest bird


A study of Chinese Crested Tern highlights that the global population has fallen to less than fifty individuals, half what they were just three years ago.
The study believes that the main cause of this decline is an unregulated expansion in trade for seabird eggs, a local delicacy that has risen in demand alongside a thriving tourist economy.
Without urgent action conservationists have given the bird less than five years before disappearing completely from its two remaining breeding areas.
Chinese Crested Tern Sterna bernstein is China’s rarest bird, listed by BirdLife International as Critically Endangered – the most severe threat category.
First discovered in 1861 and rarely recorded since, Chinese Crested Tern was largely presumed extinct until 2000, when four adults and four chicks were found amongst a colony of other tern species on Matsu, an island off the coast of Fujian Province. In 2004, it was discovered breeding at another site: Jiushan Islands, on the coast of Zhejiang Province of eastern China. At present these are the only known breeding sites in the world.
“We all thought we had lost this species sixty years ago and were so happy to hear of its rediscovery in 2000,” commented Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division. “Its survival in Fujian and Zhejiang waters was probably due to the tension between Beijing and Taipei.”
“It would be such an irony if the Chinese Crested Tern survived amid the hostility in the Taiwanese Strait, yet becomes extinct now the relationship between Beijing and Taipei gradually normalises,” he added.
“Both sides of the Strait should work together to save this, the rarest bird in China - otherwise it will be sure to follow the Baiji [Yangtze River Dolpin] as another ecological tragedy of the early 21st century.”
The recent survey, undertaken by a Chinese survey team, is the first time Chinese Crested Tern have been surveyed over successive breeding seasons.
“Compared with 2004, the population size has decreased by more than 50 percent,” said Dr Chen Shuihua, who led the Chinese Crested Tern survey team. “Our investigation indicated that its survival is under very severe pressure and on the verge of extinction.”
The study suggests that egg-collecting poses by far the most dramatic threat to Chinese Crested Tern, whereby seabird eggs are collected by local fishermen in the belief that wild eggs have more nutritious value than poultry eggs.
“With rapid economic development along the east coastal area in China, tourism and catering have also developed rapidly,” explained Dr Chen. “As a result a large number of sidewalk snack booths have emerged in the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Fujian.”
Seabird eggs have become a popular delicacy, yet there is little awareness that some of these eggs may come from threatened species.
The report indicates that the going rate for one seabird egg at Juexi (nearby the Jiushan Island breeding colony) was approximately 15 Chinese yuans ($2USD) in 2005. In two years this price has more than doubled: seabird eggs now sell for 35 Chinese yuans (about $4.5USD), encouraging more people into the egg-collecting trade.
In 2005 and 2006, the Chinese Crested Tern breeding colony disappeared altogether on Jiushan Island, most likely a sign of breeding failure caused by egg-collecting. Subsequent findings have reinforced this opinion: “We saw few newborn seabirds in our 2006 and 2007 breeding season surveys,” added Dr Chen.
BirdLife International are among those putting together an action plan that will draw together measures needed to save Chinese Crested Tern. Among the actions needing urgent implementation are: enhancing protection of breeding habitats, stationing wardens, regular monitoring, and regulations for selling and collecting of seabird eggs in eastern China.
“China has a good record on taking action to save other bird species from extinction - this alarm-call to save Chinese Crested Tern has hopefully come just in time.” said Simba.

Urgent call to action follows New Zealand albatross deaths

An urgent call for action has been made after shocking reports that a single longline vessel fishing in the Chatham Rise area of New Zealand was responsible for the deaths of 36 albatrosses globally threatened with extinction.
Twelve of the seabirds drowned by the vessel were Critically Endangered Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremite - a species more threatened than the Mountain Gorilla, Giant Panda and Snow Leopard on the IUCN’s Red List. Twenty-two Salvin’s Albatross Thalassarche eremita (listed as Vulnerable) were also killed.
The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand (BirdLife in New Zealand) have responded to the appalling news by highlighting the need for urgent action to prevent seabird bycatch in New Zealand's domestic fisheries.
“The high level of seabird bycatch caused by this vessel was totally unacceptable and underlines the need for a stronger regulatory framework based on mandatory regulations rather than voluntarism,” said Kevin Hackwell, Forest & Bird’s Advocacy Manager.
At the moment seabird bycatch mitigation measures are mostly voluntary with only five per cent of New Zealand fishing effort covered by an independent observer reporting on seabird bycatch.
Since the incident, Forest & Bird report that New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton is considering regulating to ensure all fishing vessels adopt best practice to avoid seabird bycatch, and that he is instructing his officials to identify what constitutes best practice.
“We already know what best practice is,” Kevin Hackwell commented, although encouraged that action is forthcoming from the government.
“We already know that mitigation measures -such as weighting fishing lines, setting lines at night, not discharging fish processing waste, and using bird-scaring lines- reduce seabird bycatch deaths by up to 90 per cent.”
Forest & Bird are now calling on the minister to act urgently to implement mandatory mitigation measures, rather than voluntary measures, to prevent further disasters.
"The minister refers to this as an 'accident' but without mandatory requirements to use mitigation measures, this was an accident waiting to happen. The minister must act urgently to ensure no further 'accidents' occur."
“Every seabird death from longlining is a nail in the coffin for these already dwindling populations of albatross,” commented Dr Ben Sullivan, Coordinator of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme.
“What is needed is regulations with teeth. Looking around the world, only those countries with mandatory mitigation measures and steps in place to monitor compliance have managed to reduce seabird mortality. This approach is essential to preventing such bycatch events and saving these species from extinction."

19 of the 22 species of albatross are now threatened with extinction. Your help is needed urgently: visit the Save the Albatross website -

19 of the 22 species of albatross are now threatened with extinction. Your help is needed urgently: visit the Save the Albatross website -

Sign up and stop illegal hunting in Spain!


The Catalan government is trying to push forward legislation that would legalise the hunting of birds using glue, say SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain).
This cruel method is specifically banned by European law because it in non-selective and difficult to adequately control.
In the name of "tradition", the hunters use sound recordings to attract birds, luring them to branches covered in glue.
Hundreds of thousands of thrushes migrating from northern Europe are thought to be at risk and will be killed in the Ebro area between October and November - that is unless the new legislations can be stopped.
In the same regulations, the Catalan government is trying also to legalise a form of net-trap hunting called 'filat', a technique which traps thirsty birds attracted to small pools of water. The technique is also forbidden in Spain, again because it is non-selective and thought difficult to control.
“The protection of nature is high on the agenda these days, but the [Catalan] government which is 'progressive and ecological', prefers to look back on methods of hunting that harms protected species,” said a spokesperson from SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain).
Get involved: sign the petition to protect birds from illegal hunting practices in Spain on the following website:

Godwit continues to rack up air-miles


E7, the Bar-tailed Godwit made famous for setting a record for long-distance non-stop flight, has broken its own record on the return flight from Alaska to New Zealand, satellite tracking studies have confirmed.
Over a seven-month-long period the single bird clocked up over 18,000-miles (29,000 km), flying from New Zealand, to China, then over to Alaska to breed, then back to New Zealand.
The record-breaking last leg of E7's journey involved a non-stop flight over the Pacific of more than eight days and covering a distance of 11,600 kilometres.
By way of comparison with humans, Guinness World Records earlier this year announced the record for running around the world: it took 2,062 days.
“Godwits do not become adults until their 3rd or 4th year and many live beyond 20 years of age. If 18,000 miles is an average annual flight distance, then an adult godwit would fly some 300,000 miles in a lifetime,” said the US Geological Survey in a statement.The study is showing conservationists the value of satellite tracking studies, and also highlights how vulnerable these migratory species are to global-scale threats.
“The Bar-tailed Godwit is one example among hundreds of migratory bird species which undertake awe-inspiring journeys every year,” said Dr Vicky Jones, BirdLife’s Global Flyways Officer. “Migrant birds rely on chains of traditional stop-over sites at which they can re-fuel and rest before embarking on the next leg of their journey.”
“Globally, these sites are being lost or degraded at an alarming rate, destroying vital links in the chain and causing populations of many migratory bird species to decline,”
Bar-tailed Godwit alone have been linked to 20 possible countries during north and south migrations. Since 2006 the satellite-tagged Godwits in this study have stopped in 11 countries.
“While every country has a responsibility to afford these amazing species safe passage within their borders, we now recognise that the future of these global voyagers can only be secured by effective action throughout their flyways,” said Dr Jones.
“Trans-boundary cooperation is key.”
E7 received a rapturous response on returning to New Zealand:
"Media coverage of the arrival of E7 in New Zealand has helped bring the magic of bird migration to people around the world," commented Michael Szabo of Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand).
The Bar-tailed Godwit tracking study is being undertaken as part of the Pacific Shorebird Migration Project; involving biologists from PRBO Conservation Science, the US Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Centre, Massey University and The University of Auckland (both New Zealand). The work was funded by the USGS, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Don't set aside set-aside: Europe’s nature under further threat as Commission decides to reduce set-aside to 0%


The European Commission has published its proposal to reduce the rate of set-aside to 0% for the 2008 harvest year.
BirdLife International regrets this decision as the annulment of set-aside for 2008 could deal a severe blow to the already struggling farmland bird populations and other wildlife.
Set-aside was introduced in 1992 with the aim of taking land out of production to reduce the EU’s infamous grain mountains. This proved an inadvertant boon to wildlife, including many birds, by providing a source of food in the winter and a safe place to nest. Thus set-aside became an important measure to compensate at least partly for environmental damage done by agricultural intensification.
Set-aside now represents an important refuge for wildlife in intensive farmed landscapes. As an example, researchers in the UK have observed that when the set-aside area was halved in the 1990s, the number of farmland birds also showed a serious decline. Recently published research from Sweden has demonstrated the link between set-aside level and numbers of farmland birds such as Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis, Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris and Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina.
Eurasian Skylark and Northern Lapwing use set-aside to nest, rare plants grow in these untouched pieces of farmland and Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella and Corn Bunting Miliara calandra profit from the extra food.
Some birds like the threatened Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax in France depend on set-aside for their survival. The Commission’s decision is likely to inflict heavily on the habitats of these species in the coming months. Ariel Brunner, BirdLife’s EU Agriculture Policy Officer commented: “Although the Commission has recognised the environmental benefits of set-aside and has promised to do a full assessment of it in next year’s Common Agricultural Policy ‘Health Check’, this rushed decision is likely to do real and immediate harm on the ground before the issue is thoroughly evaluated.”
The EU’s justification given for this decision rests on concern for the low availability of cereals on the market which could result in increasing food prices.
“This justification is in complete contradiction to numerous declarations made by the European Commission in the context of the biofuel debate where it is repeatedly stated that Europe has a huge potential for increased use of agricultural land for energy production,” argued Brunner.
“If we are already facing a crisis in the cereal sector, how can we pursue a vast increase in biofuel production?” he said. “On the other hand if the Commission claims that we have potentially up to 17.5 million hectares available for biofuel expansion, how can we justify the haste in tapping into set-aside without any proper evaluation?”
BirdLife International urges the Commission and Member States to introduce emergency offset measures, for example in the context of cross-compliance while a permanent environmental solution is developed in the context of the Health Check.
Find out more about BirdLife's policy work on Europe's farmland: visit Farming for Life

More birds than ever face extinction  but success stories highlight way forward

More birds than ever face extinction – but success stories highlight way forward


As the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals the scale of the escalating extinction crisis occurring across the planet, an unobtrusive parakeet from Mauritius is showing that, with funding and dedicated fieldworkers, species can recover from the brink of extinction.
Released today, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals that unprecedented numbers of species are now threatened with extinction. For birds, the Red List is maintained by BirdLife International, who report that 1,221 species are considered threatened with extinction. The overall conservation status of the world’s birds has deteriorated steadily since 1988, when they were first comprehensively assessed.
189 birds are now listed as Critically Endangered - the highest threat category. Yet even among these severely threatened birds is a small number whose survival odds are improving, providing case-studies to others for how species can be successfully saved. The most encouraging recovery seen in the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is Mauritius (Echo) Parakeet, once dubbed “the rarest parrot on Earth”.
Mauritius Parakeet (left) Psittacula eques –a green parrot, males of which have a bright red bill - was once down to just 10 birds in the 1970s, but today saw the World Conservation Union (IUCN) announce its move from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

Photograph D. Hansen / For more on today’s Red List 2007 announcements visit:


“Mauritius Parakeet is an inspiring example of how species can be helped to recover even from the brink of extinction,” comments Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Species Coordinator.
In the last century the species has suffered from a multitude of threats all of which contributed to substantial declines; yet concerted actions, involving local and international conservationists, the government and people of Mauritius –with support from an array of international funders- has seen the species’ chances of survival improve.

“Our work in saving other Critically Endangered birds on Mauritius has taught us that you must tackle the root causes of decline and be prepared to address these issues first,” says Vikash Tatayah of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation (MWF), the island’s sole terrestrial conservation NGO.
For Mauritius Parakeet, (left) these threats included introduced nest predators (in particular Black Rat), decline of the native fruits on which the parakeets feed (itself outcompeted by invasive non-native plants, and eaten by feral pigs), and a loss of suitable nesting sites.
“These parrots only naturally nest in old canopy trees, which are disappearing across the island,” Vikash explains. “Many years of hard work went into tackling the shortage of nest sites and finally we’ve come up with a design acceptable to Echo Parakeets and requiring less maintenance. The parakeets now nest in artificial cavities more than the traditional nest cavities.”
“The artificial cavities also control for invasive nest predators – another long-term threat to the birds,” Vikash continues. “The boxes are rat-proofed, overhanging trees are trimmed, we poison for rats on the ground, and staple plastic sheeting around trees to reduce predation of eggs and chicks by rats. These are simple but essential measures to help get the population back on its feet.” This is the third such downlisting to occur on Mauritius in recent years due to the efforts of MWF. In 2000, Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri, down to just nine birds a decade earlier, was downlisted to Endangered and now numbers 400 birds. Likewise, Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, went from just four birds in 1974 and now numbers approximately 1,000 individuals.
On being asked the secret of their success Vikash answers: “It’s no use saying ‘a parrot is a parrot, a pigeon is a pigeon’; instead we must ask how we can use the lessons we have learnt on restoring populations of other threatened birds – we must pass information on, learn from our experiences and the experiences of other projects worldwide.”
“We’ve needed fantastic support and that’s what we’ve got: both technical and financial but you also need excellent and dedicated people in the field. Whilst funding is crucial, equally so is having trained people in the field – people make the difference.”
The news is of encouragement to those working in conservation within the BirdLife Partnership, once again proving that with adequate investment and trained people on the ground, threatened species do recover. <actinic:variable name="5" />
Two weeks ago the first Mauritius Parakeet eggs of the season were laid and MWF is confident that, due to good native fruit season, a sufficient number of young parrots will fledge to maintain the population.
“Mauritius Parakeet is still Endangered – we still have lots of work to do,” states Vikash. MWF will continue conservation work on the species until the Mauritius Parakeet population is self-sustaining, but by working to maintain habitats, control predators and promote biodiversity they hope to improve the survival odds of other species that too depend on the island’s biodiversity, “People included,” adds Vikash.
“Like other species that have been saved from extinction, reversing the fortunes of the Mauritius Parakeet took painstaking research to identify the threats, sufficient funding and sustained efforts by dedicated fieldworkers to implement the necessary actions,” said BirdLife’s Dr Stuart Butchart.
“Across the world there are dedicated people struggling to repeat this story for other species, but they need the resources to achieve this.”

Brazil’s Atlantic Forest receives international support


One of Brazil’s most threatened Important Bird Areas (IBAs), Boa Nova IBA, is to benefit from a new project that will develop management plans with local people to promote sustainable use of forest resources.
Forest Conservation Project in Atlantic Tropical Forest is part of an international collaboration led by BirdLife’s Asia Division, funded and supported by Ricoh Co. Ltd, to be implemented on the ground by SAVE Brasil (BirdLife in Brazil).
Boa Nova is located in the southwestern part of the Bahia state, and has been famous among ornithologists for decades due to its unique and diverse bird community -359 in all, 10 of them globally threatened- a result of the fact that two biomes overlap: lush montane Atlantic Forest on one side, Caatinga (Brazilian semi-arid vegetation) the other. In this transitional area lies a dry vegetation formation known as mata-de-cipó, a well known locality for the threatened Slender Antbird Rhopornis ardesiacus, one of the rarest antbirds in Brazil, and the Narrow-billed Antwren Formicivora iheringi.
The new project comes just in time; a great part of original forest habitat has been destroyed in the region, largely driven by firewood gathering, illegal deforestation, clearance for plantations, slash-and-burn processes, overgrazing, and undeveloped land utilisation plans.
In 2006, Boa Nova IBA was singled out as one of sixteen Brazilian IBAs (out of 163) “in a critical situation [that] continue suffering direct (illegal capture, hunting) or indirect (environment destruction) aggressions” according to SAVE Brasil.Over three years the new Forest Conservation Project in Atlantic Tropical Forest project, will work to develop sustainable land-use practices under a number of forest conservation management plans; covering aspects including forest resources, business plans for local communities, drawing together best-practice guidelines and investing in ecotourism initiatives in the area.
Other outcomes from the project will address the driving factors behind habitat loss; with research into firewood substitutes for local communities; ‘planting plans’ whereby existing species of tree are planted when others are destroyed; and school programmes where the rainforests, and the ‘ecosystem services’ the forests provide, will be extensively covered.
Forest Conservation Project in Atlantic Tropical Forest was truly international in its inception, involving conservationists from BirdLife Asia Division and SAVE Brasil. Ricoh have provided running costs for the project contributing in the region of 7.5 million yen ($65, 310 USD) as part of its social contribution initiative, the Forest Ecosystem Conservation Program.
“Ricoh and BirdLife Asia strongly hope that the purpose and value of this project, which is to allow the competent protection of biological diversity with sustainable use of the forest, will be understood by other companies and that this support will expand,” said a spokesperson from BirdLife International.

Polish government backs down for now over road construction


BirdLife International and a number of NGOs have welcomed reports in the Polish media that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has received an official declaration from the Polish government, stating that construction work on the controversial section of the Augustow bypass will not start until a final ECJ judgment on the case, which is expected within the next two years.
The area, including the Rospuda Valley, is a designated Natura 2000 site for its status as an area of outstanding biodiversity value. Bird species threatened include Lesser-spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina, White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla and Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus."However, residents of Augustow risk facing further delays of an essential bypass, unless the Polish Road Agency and authorities undertake a serious analysis of all alternative routes, in compliance with European legislation," added Znaniecka.
At the end of July, the European Commission applied to the ECJ for the temporary suspension of construction works that directly threatened the Augustow Forest Natura 2000 site. This followed a shock announcement from Polish officials that construction would start within the Natura 2000 site on August 1, as soon as the breeding season for birds was officially over.
Members of the European Parliament's Petition Committee visited the site in June and are likely to adopt a critical report on this case on September 13.

“Junk” threatens re-establishment of California Condor


Of 13 breeding attempts by Critically Endangered California Condors Gymnogyps californianus in the wild in southern California between 2001 and 2005, only one resulted in successful fledging. A paper <actinic:variable name="1" /> published in Bird Conservation International finds that “ingested anthropogenic material” -swallowed junk -was directly responsible for the deaths of two condor nestlings, and is strongly implicated in the deaths of several more.
Four dead nestlings and two removed from the wild held substantial
quantities of junk such as glass fragments, metal bottle-tops, washers, cartridge cases, electrical wiring and plastic pipes.
By contrast, of nine chicks produced between 1980 and 1984, all but one fledged successfully. “Current levels of junk ingestion clearly surpass that found in the historical breeding population,” the authors assert. “The deleterious effects of junk ingestion on condor nest success now seriously threaten the long-term re-establishment of a viable, self-sustaining breeding population in southern California.”
The US Forest Service has tried to clean up sites used by condors, but because of the “growing and deeper human footprint on the environment of southern California”, the task is huge. The authors propose that as a matter of urgency, additional condor restaurants should be set up at multiple feeding sites away from problem areas. “However, an increase in the foraging ranges of condors is likely to result in increased exposure to lead. Removing the threat of lead poisoning from the condor range would allow greater flexibility for the management of condor populations.”

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

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