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

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.

Read more

Elfin-woods Warbler added to endangered species list


Yellow-breasted Bunting’s decline mirrors Passenger Pigeon’s collapse

Snowy Owls arrive amid new concerns for the global population

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


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