World bird news February 2006

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BirdLife urges caution in biofuel drive

08-02-2006

BirdLife has broadly welcomed the European Commission’s Biofuels strategy, published today, as a step forward in the fight against climate change.

However, while BirdLife welcomes the Commission’s commitment to ensure that biofuels are produced sustainably and deliver substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the organisation is concerned that the new strategy remains too generic to offer real guarantees that wildlife will not be harmed.

The strategy covers the use of transport biofuels – mainly ethanol and biodiesel - in tackling climate change, and incentives to encourage development of the industry. The need to prevent loss of wildlife if uncultivated or 'set-aside' farmland (important for many declining European farmland birds) or tropical forests are converted to biofuel crops is clearly mentioned but seems to be more of an add on, rather than central to the EU strategic vision.

For instance, Indonesia's government plans to develop 3 million hectares of palm oil plantations in the next five years to meet the increasing demand for biofuel, with the EU market signalled as a main market. Most of this area will be obtained by clearing rainforest; a new oil palm plantation covering an area of 1.8 million hectares in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) near the border with Malaysia would destroy one of the last large pristine expanses of rainforest known as "the heart of Borneo", home to globally threatened species such as the Orangutang.

"There is a great danger that the development of biofuels will have a devastating impact on biodiversity while delivering hardly any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions." —Ariel Brunner, BirdLife

Ariel Brunner, BirdLife's EU Agriculture Policy Officer, said, "There is a great danger that the development of biofuels will have a devastating impact on biodiversity while delivering hardly any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The EU can ensure it doesn’t go this way by putting in place a strong system of safeguards. This document is a step in the right direction, but only the bare bones of environmental protection are currently there."

BirdLife is calling on the Commission to ensure that large scale conversion of set-aside land to energy crops is avoided, and that biofuels are promoted in ways that reward actual environmental performance rather than providing production subsidies.

Mr Brunner added, "The EU has pledged to ensure that biofuels are sustainably produced and we shall be watching closely whether this declaration is followed by concrete action. Environmental protection must not be lost in the EU’s drive to promote biofuels."

Caribbean oriole taxonomy examined

06-02-2006

An examination of the "Greater Antillean Oriole" complex has concluded that it may in fact consist of four distinct species found on different Caribbean islands.

Names proposed for the new splits are Bahamas Oriole Icterus northropi (Andros and Abaco, Bahamas), Cuban Oriole I. melanopsis (Cuba, Isla de Pinos), Hispaniolan Oriole I. dominicensis (Hispaniola) and Puerto Rican Oriole I. portoricensis (Puerto Rico).

The study, by Garrido, Wiley and Kirkonnell, published in the journal Ornitologia Neotropical (16: pp.449;470), found plumage differences between the four forms were more marked in immature birds, with vocal differences considered more significant in adults.

Within the group, Bahamian birds were considerably larger but appeared closest to Black-cowled Orioles I. prosthemelas of Central America in appearance, than to birds from the West Indies.
"Whether or not it is eventually regarded as a separate species, what is not in doubt is that the Bahamas Oriole is one of the Caribbean's rarest birds. Habitat loss and invasive species, two of the major scourges of the region's native wildlife, threaten its continued survival." David Wege, BirdLife Caribbean Program Manager
If accepted, the splits have considerable conservation implications for the newly recognised endemic species. For example, Puerto Rican birds are frequently victims of brood parasitism following the recent arrival of Shiny Cowbirds Molothrus bonariensis on the island.

Shiny Cowbirds are also a very real threat to the Bahamas Oriole. The orioles are believed to have been extirpated on Abaco and a 1997 study estimates just 50-100 birds on North Andros and 100-200 remaining on South Andros. There is no estimate for the number of birds on Mangrove Cay between North and South Andros.
Birdlife International

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2006 |  World bird news February 2006

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