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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.’

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