A new assessment of the world’s rarest birds recommends that eight species should be added to the list of confirmed or suspected extinctions. These include the Spix’s Macaw (famously the main character “Blu” in the 2011 children’s film Rio), the Glaucous Macaw and Pernambuco Pygmy-owl.
The assessment reviews 51 Critically Endangered species, three of which should now be re-classified as Extinct, while another, the Spix’s Macaw, should be treated as Extinct in the Wild. They also recommend that four species should be moved to ‘Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)’, meaning further searches are needed to confirm their extinction.
Historically, most bird extinctions have been driven by the impacts of invasive alien species (46%) and hunting/trapping (26%) on islands.
However, habitat loss through deforestation on continents has played a major role in these latest extinctions. Five of the eight newly identified extinctions took place on the South American continent, four of them in Brazil, reflecting the devastating effects of the high rate of deforestation in this part of the world.
Although it has been more than a decade since many of these species were last seen, Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Chief Scientist and lead author of the paper, emphasises the importance of not declaring extinctions prematurely:
“Determining whether a species has gone extinct is challenging as it is often difficult to tell if the last few individuals have died, especially for poorly known species in remote locations. While we need an accurate measure of extinction rates, giving up on a species prematurely risks committing the so-called Romeo Error, where conservation efforts are abandoned prematurely on the presumption that the species has disappeared.”
BirdLife International is committed to preventing the extinction of bird species across the entire planet. The outlook may look bleak, but the study provides the conservation world with vital information on where to focus action. “While the results suggest that it is too late to help some iconic species, birds are better known than any other taxonomic class, so we know which species are at greatest risk and what actions and which locations are needed to save them. This study should inspire a redoubling of efforts to prevent further human-induced extinctions in the coming years.” Says Melanie Heath, Director of Science, Policy and Information Management, BirdLife International.
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