The Imperial Amazon was classed as Critically Endangered - partly due to Hurricane Maria © HBW

A look back at some of the biggest bird conservation stories of 2019

A lot can happen in a year. Browse some of the most important advances in bird conservation science that happened over 2019: part of the yearly update to our flagship publication, State of the World’s Birds.

By Jessica Law

Yearly updates can be infuriating. At the end of every December, social media is flooded with humblebrags about exotic holidays, job promotions or similar successes. But we promise that some yearly updates really are important.

Every four years, we release a full update of State of the World’s Birds: BirdLife’s landmark publication, which provides a global overview of the status of bird populations, the pressures they face and the actions underway to save them. Since birds are important indicators of the planet’s overall health, this report helps decision-makers to shape the global conservation agenda.

However, a lot can happen in four years. That’s why we also produce yearly updates on key scientific and conservation developments over the past 12 months. Here are some significant advances in knowledge we’ve gained since the last State of the World’s Birds publication was released in 2018.

 

State: the current health of bird populations

Gurney's Pitta was classed as Critically Endangered due to habitat destruction © Boonchuay Promijam
Gurney’s Pitta was classed as Critically Endangered due to habitat destruction © Boonchuay Promijam

In case you missed the headlines: in the 2019 update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Guam Rail Hypotaenidia owstoni became only the second bird in history to come back from extinction in the wild. Similarly, on Mauritius, the Echo Parakeet Psittacula eques was pronounced no longer Endangered. These encouraging successes were countered by the plight of Gurney’s Pitta Hydrornis gurneyi and the Imperial Amazon Amazona imperialis, both of which were moved to the Critically Endangered category – the Imperial Amazon’s crisis compounded by 2017’s infamous Hurricane Maria.

Leafbirds have become the ultimate fashion victims ever since a Greater Green Leafbird Chloropsis sonnerati won the President’s Cup songbird competition in Indonesia in 2012. Last year, three species of leafbird were moved to Endangered, decimated by unsustainable trapping to fuel insatiable public demand. Even more worryingly, Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii (the star of the 2011 animated film Rio) was officially classed as Extinct in the Wild along with several other bird species, following a 2018 paper by BirdLife scientists that used new, more accurate methods of identifying bird extinctions.

 

Pressure: why birds are declining

Agriculture was found to be the biggest global threat to birds © Mihalec / Shutterstock
Agriculture was found to be the biggest global threat to birds © Mihalec / Shutterstock

Ask a random member of the public what they think the biggest threat to birds is, and they may suggest domestic cats, or maybe plastics. The truth is rather different. Our data shows that the top five threats to globally threatened bird species are (in descending order): agriculture, logging, invasive alien species, hunting and trapping, and climate change/severe weather. These findings will help us to focus our action and raise awareness of species and sites that need greater public support.

We’ve only just started discovering where seabirds go when they leave our shores, let alone what dangers they face. But thanks to advances like tracking technology, this year we also identified the top threats to seabirds; headed by invasive alien species, bycatch in fisheries and climate change/severe weather.

In 2019, an exposé of illegal bird killing and taking in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf became a vital addition to our understanding of this unsustainable practice. Combined with 2015’s coverage of the Mediterranean, and 2017’s appraisal of Northern and Central Europe and the Caucasus, we estimate that a shocking 13 to 43 million birds are lost across this wider region every year.

 

Response: actions needed to conserve birds and biodiversity

2,437 vital bird habitats have been improved through conservation action © Juan Carlos Valarezo
2,437 vital bird habitats have been improved through conservation action © Juan Carlos Valarezo

At first sight, the challenge looks immense: recent data shows that only 21% of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are completely within protected areas, and 36% still have no coverage at all. However, the power of the BirdLife Partnership provides hope: an astonishing 2,437 IBAs have improved through the BirdLife Partnership’s work since 2013, and 39% of threatened bird species worldwide have directly benefited from our Partners’ conservation action since 2013.

We’ve learned over the years that to make real and lasting change, we need to involve everyone, including governments, businesses and the general public. 2019 included two shining examples: key shorebird habitats along the Yellow Sea secured World Heritage listing, safeguarding vital rest stops for 17 globally threatened migratory shorebirds. Additionally, Critically Endangered vultures in Nepal are finally recovering thanks to a two-pronged approach: banning the vulture-killing livestock drug Diclofenac, and setting up “vulture-safe zones” supplied with non-toxic food.

These insights are just the start. With them, we can generate further action, inspiring change in policies and society and spreading our work even further. If this is what we can achieve in just one year, perhaps there’s hope for the planet after all. Amid the news of environmental doom, this is one yearly update that won’t leave you fuming in frustration.

Read the full update at: 

http://datazone.birdlife.org/2020-annual-update

 

And introducing… our new species dashboard

 

Want to see the findings of State of the World’s Birds in simple, at-a-glance visuals? Well, now you can, with our brand new species dashboard. Using clear, easy-to-digest graphics, this interactive resource allows you to view the conservation status of bird populations in every region, country, family, ecosystem and much more. Just select the kind of birds you want to learn about, and our dashboard will show you what they’re threatened by, which habitats they use, their Red List categories, and more – the perfect resource for if you’re a researcher, a campaigner, or just curious about your favourite bird group.

Explore the dashboard at:

http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/dashboard

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