The plight of Africa’s Vultures is big news for the 2015 Red List update, but a number of other important changes also grab the attention this year.
Worldwide, 40 more bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction in the 2015 Red List. Besides the vultures, these include many wading shorebirds, and other iconic species like Helmeted Hornbill, Swift Parrot, Atlantic Puffin, and European Turtle-dove.
Conversely, 23 species of birds have been downgraded to lower threat categories. In some cases, this reflects a better understanding of how they are faring, but some species have undergone remarkable recoveries as a result of conservation action, including Seychelles Warbler and Chatham Petrel.
IUCN Red List changes – summary in numbers
24 bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction (either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) in the 2015 Red List update of birds, with seven species being upgraded to Critically Endangered. Another 16 bird species have seen their status change from Least Concern (the lowest level of threat) to Near Threatened. 23 species have been downgraded to lower threat categories.
7 species uplisted to Critically Endangered
- Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus: Endangered to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
- White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus: Endangered to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
- White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis: Vulnerable to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
- Rüppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii: Endangered to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
- – Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil: Near Threatened to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED.
As well as severe loss of its South-East Asian forest habitat, the species is known to be targeted by hunters for its feathers and for its solid ‘ivory’ casque, which is used to produce handicrafts and traded with China. Previously, it was thought that capture rates may be relatively low as a result of the species becoming shy over centuries of hunting. However, recent reports suggest that the species is currently being traded on a large scale.
- – Swift Parrot Lathamus discolor: Endangered to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED.
Breeds on Tasmania before migrating to the Australian mainland for the winter. Affected by extensive habitat loss (both breeding and wintering areas) and, in 2014, it was reported that the species is also facing a severe threat from the introduced Sugar Glider Petaurus breviceps – a small possum – in its breeding areas.
- – Chestnut-capped Piha Lipaugus weberi: Endangered to CRITICALLY ENDANGERED.
There are fewer than 250 individuals of this grey songbird, which is restricted to a few fragmented forest populations on the northern slope of the Central Andes of Colombia. Continued forest degradation and clearance for construction, agriculture and commercial plantations in the region are having profound and long-term environmental impacts on the species.
Wader/Shorebird species declines
Eight wader/shorebird species have seen their threat status upgraded, including Great KnotCalidris tenuirostris and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. Both species, which have gone up from Vulnerable to Endangered, use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and are under intense pressure from the loss of intertidal stopover habitat in the Yellow Sea region of East Asia. Up to 65% of intertidal habitat in the Yellow Sea has been lost over the past 50 years, and the remaining habitat is currently disappearing at a rate of more than 1% annually, owing to reclamation for agriculture, aquaculture and other development.
Several other more widespread species of wading bird have seen their status raised from Least Concern to Near Threatened. Populations of the Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Red Knot Calidris canutus and Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea are declining in East Asia and Australasia for the same reasons as above – but also in some other parts of their large world ranges, from Africa to the Americas.
Two other well-known waterbirds concentrated in Europe, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellusand Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, have also been uplisted to Near Threatened, owing to factors including the loss of breeding meadow habitat and overharvesting of shellfish, respectively.
A total of 23 species have been downlisted to a lower level of threat. However, not all of these changes are down to actual improvements in the species’ plights, with many of the downlistings due to a better knowledge of individual populations and a more accurate revised picture of how the species in question are faring.
However, one particular conservation success story is Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis. Once one of the world’s rarest songbirds, it was present on a number of Seychelles islands until human disturbance reduced it to a single population of just 26 birds on the tiny (0·3 km²) Cousin Island in 1968. The island was purchased by the International Council for Bird Preservation (the forerunner to BirdLife International) in that year.
Subsequent intensive conservation management, such as the clearance of coconut plantations, which allowed the warbler’s woodland to regenerate, and translocations to four other Seychelles islands, means that the population reached 2,800 individuals in 2014, with conservationists expecting it to rise to a capacity of around 7,000 birds in future. As a result the species has been downlisted from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.
In addition, Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii, formerly one of the world’s rarest breeding seabirds, with just 1,000 pairs in 1975, has seen its status improve from Near Threatened to Least Concern, due largely to the protection of its breeding colonies in the Ebro Delta in north-east Spain There are now more than 20,000 pairs in the western Mediterranean.
Chatham Petrel Pterodroma axillaris breeds only in the remote Chatham Islands, c. 400 miles south-east of New Zealand. Historically, like many Pacific seabirds, its numbers were significantly impacted by invasive introduced mammalian predators, such as cats and brown rats. During the second half of the 20th century, the Chatham Petrel faced another threat in the form of nest-site competition with a much commoner seabird, Broad-billed Prion Pachyptila vittata. This led to a reduction in the Chatham Petrel population at a rate of approximately 1% a year, and in 1995 the population stood at a low of around 600-800 birds; the species was consequently listed as Endangered. However, following conservation measures, such as the installation of burrow flaps (which allow Chatham Petrels access to their nest sites, but exclude the prions) and the translocation of the petrels to two predator-free islands in the group, the species has been downlisted to Vulnerable.
The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the conservation status of plant and animal species. BirdLife is the Red List Authority for birds for the IUCN Red List. As part of a new scientific collaboration announced in 2015, BirdLife’s Red List assessments are now sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.