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Study: More birds face extinction than other animal groups

As if humanity didn’t have enough to deal with right now — the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of fascism, and ongoing protests against police brutality — a newly released study paints a dire picture about the global extinction of wildlife.

The study says the extinction rate is likely much higher than previously thought and is eroding nature’s ability to provide vital services to people.

The new paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates the wildlife trade and other human impacts have wiped out hundreds of species and pushed many more to the brink of extinction at an unprecedented rate.

The study was conducted by Gerardo Ceballosa, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico; Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich; and botanist Peter H. Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden. They examined data on more than 29,000 species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles and found that more than 500 of them ― 1.7 percent ― are “on the brink of extinction,” with populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals. More than half of those species have populations below 250, they found.

“The ongoing sixth mass extinction may be the most serious environmental threat to the persistence of civilization, because it is irreversible,” the authors write in the report. “Thousands of populations of critically endangered vertebrate animal species have been lost in a century, indicating that the sixth mass extinction is human caused and accelerating.”


Ceballosa and his co-authors found that 515 species of land vertebrates have populations of 1,000 or fewer individuals. Birds account for 65 percent of the total — 335 species.

“The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption,” the authors write. “Among the possible actions, a global comprehensive binding agreement is required to address the extinction crisis, especially to tackle the legal and illegal trade in wild species. Such an agreement should be a mere first step in developing a 2020–2030 conservation agenda.”

The list of species with fewer than 1,000 individuals includes North America’s Whooping Crane and California Condor and at least five Hawaiian species.

We have created the slideshow below to show you birds from other parts of the world that the authors define as “on the brink.” Follow the links to the species Red List pages to learn more.




Book reveals the causes of the sixth extinction

For the birds

Here is a sampling of conservation groups worth supporting:

American Bird Conservancy

Birds Canada



Center for Biological Diversity

Earth Justice

Fundación ProAves

International Bird Rescue

International Crane Foundation


National Audubon Society

National Wildlife Federation

Nature Conservancy

Sierra Club

Wild Ones

World Migratory Bird Day


Too numerous to list: State, provincial, or local bird clubs, Audubon chapters, and bird observatories. 

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