Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Seabirds in danger in updated Red List

Seabirds in danger in updated Red List
17 Jan
Overfishing and climate change are edging seabirds such as the Black-legged Kittiwake and Cape Gannet ever closer to extinction

These are the findings of the recent IUCN Red List update on the conservation status of the world’s birds. The research conducted by BirdLife International reassessed the status of 238 bird species in 2017, leading to a change in Red List Category for 135 species.

As well as highlighting the growing threat to seabirds, one of the other key changes in this year’s report shows how illegal trapping in China has led to drastic decline in the Yellow Breasted Bunting, a songbird once abundant in Asia.

shutterstock bunting

‘There are currently 222 species listed in the highest threat category, Critically Endangered, all of which are thought to have an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild,’ says Andy Symes, Global Species Officer for Red List Coordination. ‘Most of these have tiny populations and small ranges, but an alarming exception is the Yellow-breasted Bunting that is declining so rapidly (over 80 per cent of the population has vanished in 15 years) that it is now listed as Critically Endangered.’

Another change relates to new information from the North American Arctic, which has shown the Snowy Owl population is much smaller than previously thought, and getting smaller. It appears climate change is again among the number of threats facing the owl.

‘It is clear that climate-driven changes in the timing of snowmelt are likely to be affecting the availability of prey, and that declines in this flagship species could be an indicator of wider change already taking place in the Arctic ecosystem,’ explains Symes. ‘There are a number of other species that have been uplisted this year where climate change has been put forward as one of the potential threats, including several from South Africa.’

shutterstock snowy owl

Action is being taken to reverse some of these worrying declines but more work is needed. ‘Sustainable management of fisheries, including the reduction of bycatch, will be key to recovery for threatened seabirds such as the Black-legged Kittiwake and Cape Gannet,’ says Symes.

Thankfully this years updated Red List is not all doom and gloom. Dalmatian Pelicans in Europe are recovering due to artificial nesting rafts and disturbance prevention, and in New Zealand two species of kiwi are less threatened after dedicated control of introduced predators, egg-rearing and community work. According to Symes, ‘the downlisting of species such as Okarito and Northern Brown Kiwis and Dalmatian Pelican show that conservation can and does work when it is well-planned and supported by the appropriate resources.’

shutterstock pelican

Dr Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator at BirdLife International, also emphasises the importance of these conservation efforts: ‘Birds are well-studied and great indicators of the health of the wider environment. A species at higher risk of extinction is a worrying alarm call that action needs to be taken now. Thankfully success in kiwi and pelican conservation shows that, when well-resourced and supported, conservation efforts really do pay off.’

red line


Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...


The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…


Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away


Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…


Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…


A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…


The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…


The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…


New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…


The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…


The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…


One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…


Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…


A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…


The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…


With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…


Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…


The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…


Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…


Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…


Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…