Sounding the alarm for seabirds, Snowy Owl, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and other imperiled birds

1/25/2018 | 2

Red List

Black-legged Kittiwake at Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland. Photo by newfoundlander61

Overfishing and climate change are pushing seabirds such as Black-legged Kittiwake and Cape Gannet closer to extinction, according to the latest update on the conservation status of the world’s birds by BirdLife International. The kittiwake’s status changed from Least Concern to Vulnerable, and the gannet went from Vulnerable to Endangered.

Last year, BirdLife reassessed 238 species for the Red List of Threatened Species. The statuses of 28 percent improved while 26 percent worsened. Together, species in the three categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable are referred to as globally threatened. Around 13 percent, or one in eight, of all extant bird species are currently listed as globally threatened.

Kittiwakes in trouble

Nesting kittiwake numbers have plummeted by 87% since 2000 on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and by 96% on the Hebridean island of St Kilda. Globally, the species is thought to have declined by around 40% since the 1970s, justifying its uplisting from Least Concern to Vulnerable. Black-legged Kittiwakes cross great swathes of the ocean to find food, including areas of the “high seas” that do not fall under the jurisdiction of any country.

“The alarming decline of the Black-legged Kittiwake and other North Atlantic and Arctic seabirds, such as Atlantic Puffin, provides a painful lesson in what happens when nations take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to conservation,” says Marguerite Tarzia, European Marine Conservation Officer at BirdLife International.

BirdLife has recently identified a “high seas” Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) in the Mid-Atlantic that corresponds to key foraging grounds for the Black-legged Kittiwake, Atlantic Puffin, and over 20 other seabird species. This site has been proposed to the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic for consideration as a high seas Marine Protected Area.

Concerns for Snowies, other birds

Snowy Owls

A Snowy Owl in Cleveland, Ohio, on December . Photo by Cassandre Crawford (Creative Commons)

Snowy Owl is one of the species whose status got worse, uplisting from Least Concern to Vulnerable, thanks in part to a more accurate population estimate. “It is undergoing rapid population declines in North America and probably also in northern Europe and Russia,” BirdLife reported. The most recent estimate ranges from 14,000 pairs to as low as 7,000-8,000 pairs.

Other North American species whose statuses declined were Aleutian Tern (now Vulnerable), Loggerhead Shrike (Near Threatened), Chestnut-collared Longspur (Vulnerable), and Saltmarsh Sparrow (Endangered). Puerto Rico’s Elfin-woods Warbler was also uplisted, to Endangered.

The alarming decline of Asia’s Yellow-breasted Bunting spurred its status to be changed to Critically Endangered. Officials are saying the once super-abundant bird may become the next Passenger Pigeon after an 80 percent plummet in its numbers since 2002, mainly due to large-scale unchecked hunting.

On the positive side, Dalmatian Pelicans in Europe are recovering thanks to artificial nesting rafts and disturbance prevention, and in New Zealand, two species of kiwi are now less threatened thanks to dedicated control of introduced predators, egg-rearing, and community work. And in the Galápagos, Floreana Mockingbird’s numbers have jumped from fewer than 50 adults in 2007 to more than 750 individuals now.

A version of this article will appear in the March/April 2018 issue of BirdWatching magazine. 


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  • Paul & Evelyn

    Wondering… Why do you think it climate change?

  • Kimber timbers

    This is why I wrote a letter to my representative peeps…
    Top of the world to you,
    I’m emailing you, because I really think it would be quite dandy if the government could do more to protect the cheep cheeps. Now, it’s estimated that roughly 52 million Americans feed backyard birds regularly according to this website . I imagine that there are other bird feeders like myself who can’t have pets due to allergies or for whatever reason who also feel like the songbirds that we feed in our back yards are like outdoor pets to us, and we all know how much Americans love their pets (particularly cats and dogs). Now, if there are 52 million Americans who feed birds as outdoor pets, that number isn’t much less than the estimated number of 59 million Americans who own cats (or the 59 million Americans who feed cats as indoor pets rather than outdoor pets) according to this website . That’s only a difference of 7 million which is less than the number of the 15 million Americans who own birds as indoor pets according to this website . Therefore, birds may be considered the third most popular pet in America.
    With that in mind, think of all the things Americans do for their pet dogs and cats. They have vets; some even have pet insurance. There are dog parks for pet dog owners and even pet hotels that will watch over pet dogs and/or cats temporarily for pet owners who may need to go out of town for a few weeks or however long. Not to mention, the number of youtube videos about pets that Americans watch… Americans would do almost anything for their pets, right? So now is the time to let Americans be able to do anything for their outdoor pet birds by making buildings more bird friendly with bird safe glass used for the windows or other bird safe building designs… or making bird safe products such as window alert more available on the market…and building townhouses with bird safe building features would be awesome…. just because, it breaks my heart every time I hear the thump of a bird running into a window (and being killed many times as a result of the window collision)… I wish that it was easier to be able to buy pet products for outdoor bird safety to make a safer environment or outdoor home in my backyard for the cheep cheeps. They’re like mother nature’s juke boxes ya know. 🙂 Thank you from the bottom of my bird loving heart.