World Bird News for June 2011

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Rare Audouinís Gull breeding population in Greece rapidly declined in the last ten years

Rare Audouin’s Gull breeding population in Greece rapidly declined in the last ten years

The breeding populations of the Audouin’s Gull in Greece have experienced a rapid decline from estimated 750-900 pairs in late 1990s to 350-500 pairs in 2010. The Hellenic Ornithological Society (BirdLife Greece) is carrying out a series of actions to assess its major threats and to improve its breeding performance in its most important colonies.

Audouin’s Gull is a flag species of the Aegean Sea. It breeds on uninhabited islands in colonies ranging in size from few pairs to several tens of pairs. The distribution as well as the size of these colonies has been reduced over the last decade resulting in smaller local and national populations.

Although the main threats, including depletion of food sources due to overfishing, competition with other species, bycatch in longline fisheries and predation at breeding colonies, have been identified, their overall impact on the population of Audouin’s Gull still remain insufficiently known.

“In scope of the problems and recent population decline the Audouin’s Gull is facing in Greece, immediate actions need to be taken to stop the population decline and to increase the quality of its breeding and foraging habitats. The current LIFE Nature Project “Concrete conservation actions for the Mediterranean Shag and Audouin’s Gull in Greece, including the inventory of relevant marine IBAs” addresses the major threats, either by taking direct measures to improve breeding sites by rat eradication and gull population control operations or by providing a scientific basis for future mitigation and conservation measures through delineation of marine IBAs and assessment of seabird bycatch in fishing gear” says Jakob Fric, HOS Project Coordinator.
Photo: Sergey Yeliseev

Click here to download Audouinís Gull identification Pdf (PDF file)

Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

An international team of conservationists is on an emergency mission to help save one of the world’s rarest birds from extinction. Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus is a remarkable bird, but its shocking drop in numbers indicates likely extinction within a decade if urgent action is not taken.

The team plans to establish a captive population which will be the source for reintroductions over the coming years, once the threats to the birds and their habitats along their flyway have been sufficiently addressed.

Recent research suggests that the breeding population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper was between 120-200 pairs in 2009, with the species believed to be declining at approximately 26% per year, due to extremely low survival of juvenile birds.

“If this decline continues, these amazing birds won’t be around for much longer”, said Evgeny Syroechkovskiy of Birds Russia, the lead BirdLife Species Guardian for Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

“The BirdLife Partnership is working in many countries along the flyway to make sure that this and many other species have safe havens along their migratory routes”, said Cristi Nozawa, Director of BirdLife Asia. “Captive breeding is one part of the larger conservation effort to save this emblematic Asian species.”

The team, led by Birds Russia, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), is working with colleagues from BirdLife International, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), British Trust for Ornithology and Moscow Zoo to help save this species.

The bird’s migratory route takes it 8,000 km along the East Asian-Australasian flyway each year from Russia to the Bay of Martaban, Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. On that journey and during the non-breeding season they have been reported from Japan, North Korea, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. BirdLife Partners are actively engaged in Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation in many of these countries.

Currently the team is in Russia waiting to locate and collect eggs from the breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. They will construct an incubation facility where they will hatch the chicks before transferring the fledged young via sea and air back to Moscow Zoo for quarantine. The chicks will then be transferred to a specially built conservation breeding unit at WWT’s headquarters at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire where staff will rear and breed the birds.

It is believed that the main reason for the catastrophic decline, and especially the incredibly low survival among juveniles, is unsustainable levels of subsistence hunting, particularly on the wintering areas in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

However, with a migration flyway that runs along some of the most rapidly developing coastlines of Asia, there are several other critical threats, in particular the wholesale degradation and reclamation of the inter-tidal mudflats where the species feeds.

Follow all the news on Spoon-billed Sandpiper at http://www.birdlife.org/spoonbilledsandpiper

Criticism of Finlandís Spring Hunting of Common Eider

Criticism of Finland’s Spring Hunting of Common Eider

The population of common eider Somateria mollissima in the Baltic Sea has dramatically declined over the last decades. Nevertheless, the local government of Åland, an autonomous group of islands belonging to Finland, has re-opened spring hunting of common eiders as of 1st of May. The BirdLife Partners in Denmark, Sweden and Finland protest against spring hunting and call for the EU to take action to protect this vulnerable population.

According to an article of Jan Skriver

The population of common eiders has seen a serious crisis in the Baltic Sea in recent decades, and the breeding population has decreased by 40% since 1995, so almost by half in 15 years.

However, this situation has not prevented the local Government of Åland, an autonomous Finnish archipelago in the Baltic Sea, from reintroducing the authorization of spring hunting of common eider with effect from 1. May 2011 and violating the EU Birds Directive.

As birds are busy with their breeding activities, hunters on the archipelago, which consists of 6500 islands and reefs in the northern part of the Baltic Sea, can shoot adult males. According to scientists, this has a damaging effect on the population, as widowed females produce fewer ducklings.

There are many reasons to condemn the spring hunting of common eiders. The authorization of shooting the birds in the breeding season is an expression of bad management. As the common eider suffers a strong decline in the Baltic Sea in general and in Finland in particular, this authorization appears unfair and contradictory to modern and decent nature management, says Egon Østergaard, Chairman of the board for Dansk Ornitologisk Forening (DOF) – BirdLife Denmark.

Furthermore, the authorization of the spring hunting has also negative effects on other species in the territory, also vulnerable in this season, as it disrupts and distracts their breeding opportunities.

Now Finland, together with Malta are the only countries in the EU that tolerate this unjustified spring hunting practice.

BirdLife Finland has worked during the last years in order to ban spring hunting definitively in Finland. Last spring, when Åland decided to reopen spring hunting of common eiders, BirdLife Finland submitted a complaint to the European Commission. The decision of re-opening spring hunting was based on a study that Åland authorities ordered to Uppsala University in Sweden. The purposeful report claims that eiders are very rare in Autumn, so Åland Authorities decided that autumn hunting did not offer a satisfactory alternative.

Data collected by BirdLife Finland in the archipelago show that eiders are common in Autumn : flocks of hundred birds are always observed in this season. It’s quite evident that it would be preferable allowing hunting of eiders at this period than during spring, as it’s less harmful for both the eider population but also other species breeding in the archipelago.

The EU Court of Justice’s declaration from 2005 made Finland put an end to spring hunting for common eider.

Now, Åland decided to reintroduce the criticized spring hunting for the declining common eider.
In Sweden there are strong critical voices against this decision.

It is irresponsible to allow hunting during the breeding season, in particular if we take into account that the population of common eider has halved in the last few decades. The local Government of Åland has succumbed to a small yet influential hunting lobby, says Dennis Kraft on behalf of Sveriges Ornitologiska Förening (SOF) – BirdLife Sweden.

The Swedish ornithologists invite the Swedish Minister for Environment to approach his Finnish colleague in order to discontinue spring hunting in Finland.

The common eider is a symbol for the whole Baltic Sea and the eiders on Åland belong to the same population as birds in the Stockholm Archipelago. Both biologically and ethically, it is wrong to hunt birds in their breeding season. This is taking toll on the core capital and not just the surplus,while by hunting in autumn one takes from the profit, says Dennis kraft from SOF.

According to BirdLife Finland, the reintroduction of the spring hunting may be linked to the fact that certain political forces, who are against the Finnish Government’s nature protection with impetus in the EU, want to please voters with roots in old hunting traditions on the islands. It’s important to take it into account because there will have local elections on Åland island in the autumn.

During the spring hunting season this year, almost 3000 hunters of Åland participated to the hunting; a quite high number for a population of about 27 000 inhabitants.

Muted celebrations for Thailand’s most colourful bird

The rediscovery of Gurney’s Pitta 25 years ago today (June 14) brought hope for a beautiful bird feared extinct for over three decades. But the bird’s future still hangs in the balance, as destruction of lowland forest has reduced the Thailand population by around 90% since 1986.

Since the rediscovery in southern Thailand, further populations have been discovered in neighbouring Myanmar.

The only bird endemic to the Thai peninsular, Gurney’s Pitta Pitta gurneyi has been the focus of an international conservation effort, but these efforts are not matched by adequate protection of the bird’s last Thai home.

Maliwan Sopha, Director of BirdLife Partner Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), said: “The quarter-century reprieve for this bird has been squandered because successive Thai governments have allowed rubber and oil-palm plantations to expand at the expense of remaining forest. This has destroyed most Gurney’s Pitta habitat, causing the population to crash from an estimated 50 pairs throughout southern Thailand to as few as five pairs today, at a single site.”

While Thailand has an enviable record in establishing protected areas, these are all in hilly and mountainous areas. This is bad news for the large proportion of Thailand’s wildlife confined to lowland forests.

The Royal Forest Department responded to the rediscovery by setting up a wildlife sanctuary centred on the nearby mountain, Khao Nor Chuchi, but neglected to include an adequate area of lowland forest. 75% of the pittas were left unprotected, in Bang Khram National Reserve Forest. Since then, rubber and oil-palm growers have gradually eaten away the remaining forest. Many also hunt wildlife for food and the pet trade.

Khao Nor Chuchi forest, an Important Bird Area, arguably supports the richest lowland forest bird life of any site in Thailand. The continuing decline in Gurney’s Pitta has happened in spite of valiant conservation efforts by BCST in partnership with the Department of National Parks, the Royal Forest Department, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and local community bodies, with the support of the UK’s Darwin Initiative and the Oriental Bird Club.

DNP officials have tracked the continued loss of pittas and their habitat, but have been powerless to intervene. “We find bird nets set both inside and outside the sanctuary”, said one anonymous official. “Hunting, collection of forest products and illegal logging are rampant. When we survey for Gurney’s Pittas, the rubber and oil-palm growers monitor our movements. They then cut down the spiny palms in which the pitta nests, reasoning that if they kill off the pittas they will more easily be able to clear the remaining forest.”

Despite the uphill struggle facing conservationists, there is still hope. Replanting and regeneration of forests has helped stem forest clearance, and some local villagers practice sustainable management of their plantations, with regenerated forest areas for wildlife. However, this could all be in vain if the Government doesn’t seriously tackle the many land tenure issues in the area, by delineating the boundaries of the Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserve Forest, and strictly enforcing the laws relating to encroachment.

Australia’s Offshore islands yield a seabird surprise

Last summer, when members of the Australasian Seabird Group (a Birds Australia’s [BirdLife Partner] special interest group) ventured onto the Broughton Islands offshore from Port Stephens on the NSW coast, they had little idea of what treasures they would uncover.

They surveyed three outer islets off the main island that had not been visited by ornithologists since the early 1970s. With landing treacherous even in the calmest of conditions, it was easy to understand why they had not been visited since then.

The undoubted highlight was the discovery of a population of (Vulnerable) Gould’s Petrel breeding at three separate sites on Little Broughton Island. One of Australia’s rarest seabirds, with populations formerly in serious decline and listed as Endangered under the EPBC Act, the species had also been discovered during the previous summer breeding on Broughton Island itself. Before that, the birds had only been recorded nesting on Cabbage Tree Island and Boondelbah Island, about 12 km to the south-west. The discovery of extra breeding islands is a boon for the conservation of the species—in the space of a year, the number of known breeding islands has doubled.

Sharing the island group with the petrels were 100,000 pairs of Wedge-tailed Shearwater, as well as nesting Short-tailed Shearwater and White-faced Storm-Petrel, Crested Tern and Silver Gull.

More good news from Little Broughton Island was the discovery of a thriving population of Blue-tongued Lizard, which gives a clear indication that rodents have been successfully eradicated from the island group. Gould’s Petrel have benefitted from a number of conservation interventions on their breeding islands in recent years, and their success raises the hope that petrels will be able to colonise other rat-free islands in the group.

“Unfortunately, the picture from these surveys is not all good,” said Nicholas Carlile, Secretary of the ASG. “Both Broughton and Little Broughton Islands were known as breeding sites of Sooty Shearwaters in the 1970s, but this species was absent from the latest survey”.

The seabirds of two of the smaller islets of the Broughton group are yet to be surveyed, and members of the ASG hope to do so in 2011. With their recent track record, who knows what treasures they might find?

Longline fisheries continue to drive albatross declines

A new global estimate of the impact of longline fisheries on seabirds reveals that, despite efforts to reduce seabird deaths, upwards of 300,000 birds are still being killed every year.

The study by scientists from BirdLife International and the RSPB is published in the journal Endangered Species Research. It is a powerful reminder of how far we still need to go to ensure ecologically responsible fishing.

Since the 1980s, scientists have linked global declines of albatrosses and other seabirds with ‘incidental catch’ in longline fisheries. Adult and juvenile birds become snared on hooks attached to the lines, which can be over a hundred kilometres long, and are dragged underwater to a premature death.

Dr Orea Anderson, policy officer for the Global Seabird Programme and lead author of this study said, “It is little wonder that so many of the affected seabird species are threatened with extinction – their slow rate of reproduction is simply incapable of compensating for losses on the scale this study has demonstrated.”

A major factor determining this huge estimate is the emergence of fleets, with previously unaccounted for bycatch problems, adding to the global tally. While some fisheries have reduced their impacts on seabirds, we are only just becoming aware of problems in others – hampered by a lack of data.

The Spanish longline fleet on the Gran Sol grounds off SW Ireland is one such fleet, with preliminary data suggesting it may be responsible for killing large numbers of seabirds, potentially upwards of 50,000 annually, mostly shearwaters and fulmars. The Japanese tuna fleet came second in scale – over 20,000 killed each year, but with the largest impact on albatrosses.

Despite an exhaustive review, substantial data gaps remain (e.g. Nordic, Asian distant water, and Mediterranean fleets) and until these are filled it is impossible to gauge the true impact of global longline activities on seabirds. However, the continued declining trends in many seabirds remain a cause for grave concern. Seventeen out of 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction with the main threat coming from mortality in fisheries.

Some fisheries have enforced strict regulations, resulting in substantial bycatch reductions in recent years. Seabird deaths around South Georgia in the CCAMLR<Actinic:Variable Name = '3'/> zone of the Southern Ocean have declined by 99% since regulations were enforced. South Africa achieved a drop of 85% bycatch in its foreign-licensed fleet in 2008, when a cap was placed on the number of seabird deaths permitted. More recently, in April 2011, Brazil passed a law requiring the use of stringent seabird bycatch measures in their domestic tuna longline fleets.

But the problem is so global in scale that every fishing nation has a role to play in alleviating this needless waste of marine life.

BirdLife International and RSPB’s Global Seabird Programme call on regional fisheries management organisations and industry to protect seabirds through the use of simple, cost-effective mitigation measures that have been proven to reduce the threat of bycatch. They are also working to be part of the solution: the Albatross Task Force, founded by the RSPB and BirdLife International, works directly with fishermen and fishery managers in seven countries (bycatch hotspots) worldwide to reduce the number of seabirds being killed.

Dr. Cleo Small, senior policy officer for the Global Seabird Programme and co-author of the review, commented: “Using simple bird-scaring lines and weighting of hooks as they enter the water could dramatically reduce the number of seabirds being killed.

“With the UK’s Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic holding a third of the world’s breeding albatrosses, the UK has a major responsibility to ensure seabird-friendly fisheries. As for the EU, the findings of this review place a heavy onus on the forthcoming EU Plan of Action for Seabirds to deliver a robust set of remedial measures capable of reducing the impact of longline and other fisheries on seabird populations in EU waters and beyond.”

Big birds lose out in a crowded world

One of the world’s largest species of bird is on the brink of extinction according to the 2011 IUCN Red List for birds, just released by BirdLife International.

Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps has been uplisted to Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat. Hunting, disturbance, habitat loss and fragmentation have all conspired to reduce this magnificent species to perhaps as few as 250 individuals.

Standing a metre in height and weighing in at nearly 15 kg, Great Indian Bustard was once widespread across the grasslands of India and Pakistan but is now restricted to small and isolated fragments of remaining habitat.

“In an ever more crowded world, species that need lots of space, such as the Great Indian Bustard, are losing out. However, we are the ones who lose in the long run, as the services that nature provides us start to disappear”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science and Policy.

This year’s update brings the total number of threatened bird species to 1,253, an alarming 12% of the world total.

“Birds provide a window on the rest of nature. They are very useful indicators of ecosystem health: if they are faring badly, then so is wildlife more generally”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. “The changes we have documented in this year’s update will feed into the Red List Index for birds, a measure of trends in the state of the planet used by the world governments, global businesses and the United Nations, among others”.

Another species on the edge is Bahama Oriole Icterus northropi, also newly listed as Critically Endangered.
Recent survey work suggests the population of this beautiful black and yellow Caribbean bird could be as low as 180 individuals. The orioles live in mature woodland, and nest in coconut palms. Lethal yellowing disease of these palms has wiped out nesting trees in areas where the oriole was previously common but is now absent. However, apart from losing nesting habitat, the oriole is also threatened by the recent arrival of the Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis – a brood parasite that lays its eggs in other species’ nests “Although the situation appears bleak for many species, this year’s update does highlight several species where targeted conservation work has turned around their fortunes”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer.

Campbell Island Teal Anas nesiotis has benefitted from a massive programme to eradicate rats, plus captive-breeding of remaining individuals. The species has now returned to New Zealand’s Campbell Island and the majority of birds are now thriving, resulting in a reclassification of the threat status to Endangered.

Three species of Atlantic island pigeon are also benefitting from conservation. Madeira, White-tailed and Dark-tailed Laurel Pigeon (Columba trocaz of Madeira and C. junoniae and C. bollii of the Canary Islands) have all been classified at lowerthreat levels after threats such as habitat loss and hunting were addressed, coupled with an increased protection of suitable habitat.

“In the space of a year another 13 bird species have moved into the threatened categories”, said Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “This is a disturbing trend; however the figure would be much worse if conservation initiatives were not in place. The information collected by the BirdLife Partnership is crucial in helping us to continue improving conservation efforts. This is now more important than ever as the biodiversity crisis is already affecting our wellbeing and will continue to do so unless we do more to stop it.”

“Birds are so intertwined with human culture all around the world that they present a very visible picture of the state of nature. Good examples abound of how we can save threatened birds. We need to redouble our efforts to do so, otherwise we risk not just losing magnificent creatures like the Great Indian Bustard, but unravelling the whole fabric of our life-support systems”, said Dr Bennun.

Seabirds and rodents on Australia’s outlying islands

Rabbits and rodents have wreaked havoc on seabird populations on Macquarie Island, with rabbit grazing destroying albatross habitat and rodents preying on petrel chicks in their nests. Birds Australia has identified Macquarie Island as an Important Bird Area for four species of penguins, four species of albatrosses, Northern and Southern Giant-Petrels, White-headed Petrel and Brown Skua. Measures to reduce the number of introduced mammals on the island are crucial for seabird conservation.

Birds Australia has just received an update on the progress of an ambitious aerial baiting program on the island from Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Manager, Keith Springer.

The program began last year, with the aim of eradicating rats, mice and rabbits from Macquarie Island. Unfortunately, bad weather brought a halt to the first phase of the program last July, but operations resumed this May. Hopefully the program will be successful this year.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus was introduced to the island last February, resulting in a significant reduction in rabbit numbers. This should reduce the potential for mortality among scavenging seabirds (primarily giant-petrels and Brown Skuas) which might feed on poisoned rabbit carcasses after aerial baiting. To further reduce the possibility, teams will remove dead rabbits so that scavengers cannot eat them.

By mid-May this year, 75% of the first bait-drop across the island had been carried out, with the remainder due to be completed soon.

Rats and mice also pose a significant threat to another of Australia’s World Heritage listed islands: Lord Howe Island.

There is an ambitious plan to eradicate rodents from this island too, to restore it as a safe haven for many birds and other wildlife.

Birds Australia recently wrote to the Australian and New South Wales Governments urging them to fully fund the removal of rodents from Lord Howe Island. It is encouraging to see that the Australian Government has identified the eradication of rodents from Lord Howe Island as a priority in the 2011–12 Caring for Our Country Business Plan, which guides annual investment in national environment projects.

Like Macquarie Island, Lord Howe Island is also a designated Important Bird Area. It has globally significant populations of both endemic birds and seabirds: Providence Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Lord Howe Woodhen and Grey Ternlet. The eradication of rodents from Lord Howe would benefit at least 13 bird species — and White-bellied Storm-Petrels and Kermadec Petrels might be able to re-establish nesting colonies on the main island.

Bulgarian Important Bird Areas protected

The Bulgarian government has confirmed Special Protection Area extensions for four key Important Bird Areas in Bulgaria. The extensions of Lomovete, Central Balkan, Pirin and Western Rhodopes will provide protection for key breeding populations of endangered species such as the Egyptian Vulture and Saker falcon, along with a host of forest species. This follows a long campaign by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB – the BirdLife Partner in Bulgaria) and BirdLife to get the sites fully designated, which resulted in a complaint to the European Commission.

Irina Mateeva, BSPB’s EU Policy Officer said ‘We’re delighted that these special sites will now be fully protected under EU and Bulgarian law. However, a decision to extend a further key site, Rila Mountain, has yet to be made, and we are very concerned that the government continues to refuse to fully designate the Kaliakra peninsula, wintering site for the globally threatened red-breasted goose and an important stopping-off point for thousands of birds on the Via Pontica migration route.’

BSPB and BirdLife will continue the campaign to ensure the designation and protection of the Kaliakra peninsula, and the rigorous protection of all Bulgaria’s important areas for birds.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2011 |  World Bird News for June 2011

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