One in five European birds in danger of extinction

Lapwing. Photo by Mick Dryden

From Birdwatch

Pages from European Red List of Birds. 6-2015The European Red List of Birds, published this month by the European Commission, reveals that habitat loss and climate change have caused the declines of 20 per cent of European bird species.

The report’s foreword by novelist Margaret Atwood and poet Graeme Gibson minces no words: “First the birds, then us. Unless we pay attention, we’ll be on the Red List next.”

After three years of work, led by BirdLife International and financed by the European Commission, this report will set the base for European conservation and policy work over the coming years. The Red List is widely recognised as the most authoritative and objective system for assessing the extinction risk of species.

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Policy says that: “These reports contain some worrying statistics, but they also show the value of well-targeted actions to protect the biodiversity we depend on both economically and socially. Our task is to find ways of building on those successes and spreading them to other areas. They are also a valuable input to our on-going Fitness Check. Europe needs nature legislation that is fit for purpose.”

Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation at BirdLife International (European and Central Asian Division) said: “The new European Red List of Birds is a call to arms for the conservation of our natural world. It is inspiring to see that many species targeted by conservation efforts and supported by key tools such as the Birds Directive and the LIFE programme are recovering. Yet it is shocking to see many species that used to be common now listed as threatened. It is deeply worrying to contemplate the possibility of a world with no puffins, European turtle doves, northern lapwings or oystercatchers“.

Oystercatcher (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

And Christina Ieronymidou, the European Species Programme Officer at BirdLife, commented: “The Red List tells us that we have done a decent job at rescuing the rarest species by protecting their last strongholds and taking actions such as eradication of invasive species and insulation of killer power lines. We are now faced with much bigger challenges, from the ecological degradation of our farmland to climate change. These problems require a much broader and deeper response.”

The very bad news

13 per cent (67 species) of the 533 species assessed are threatened at European level, of which 10 are Critically Endangered (the highest threat level). Among them some iconic birds such as: sociable lapwing, yellow-breasted bunting, slender-billed curlew (which is probably already extinct) and, of local importance, Balearic Shearwater. The study also found that 18 species are Endangered and an additional 39 Vulnerable.

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A total of 29 species have been uplisted since 2004, having been formerly considered to be of Least Concern but now threatened or Near Threatened in Europe. These species include, of local importance, European turtle dove, oystercatcher, puffin, razorbill, meadow pipit, kittiwake and common pochard. Some further species that were identified as being in trouble a decade ago have still not improved including Egyptian vulture, greater spotted eagle and little bustard but also aquatic warbler and northern lapwing.

Aquatic warbler. Photo by Mick Dryden

There is some good news

Improvements include a total of 20 species which were previously considered regionally threatened, and are now classified as Least Concern in Europe (although some are still globally threatened). These include Dalmatian pelican, ferruginous duck, stone-curlew, black kite, lesser kestrel, long-legged buzzard, gull-billed tern, black-throated diver and great bustard. Another 25 species are still threatened in Europe, but now have a lower extinction risk than a decade ago, and have seen their threat level downlisted. For example, Zino’s petrel and Azores bullfinch, both previously considered to be Critically Endangered, are now classified as Endangered.

Download the European Red List of Birds here

Stone curlew. Photo by Mick Dryden

6 thoughts on “One in five European birds in danger of extinction

  1. Where are the swifts this year? I’m very worried as they normally nest in my eaves and there is no sign of them yet

    • I have had swifts nesting in my house for many years- last year none- this year none – although a few have turned up they aren’t behaving as per usual. Whether its a poor May or, I suspect, lack of insect food I’m not sure. Lack of nesting sites doesn’t help either.

      • Again, this is rather worrying. In Jersey we are seeing a steady decline in swift numbers. Are you in the UK or here in the Channel Islands?

  2. Hi, same here in west Wales. Noticeably fewer swifts, swallows and house martins here this year. |Not sure that swifts have nested under our house for the first time in about 20 years. Have added 5 new nests in the vilage over the last couple of years, but without success

  3. Unfortunately swifts have evolved to such a high degree of specialisation that they have really run themselves into a corner as they just don’t have room for adaptation.

    It seems that the key problem facing them is lack of nesting sites. In the wild state they would nest in cliff crevices and caves in some parts of the world and in the UK in tree cavities. However, over time they have become almost wholly dependent on human built edifices. New homes don’t have any nooks and crannies. When people repair their roof spaces, they frequently destroy swift nesting sites in doing so.

    They are colony breeders and whilst individual swifts may not always return to the natal site (we just don’t have enough information to say yet, but a study I have under way may help, over the next decade or so, contribute to our knowledge of things like this) it’s pretty certain that they recognise a suitable site based on the circumstances of their own hatching. Which is tricky. Because, when birds come to their traditional grounds from Africa and find the nest sites have gone, the only option available to them is to attempt to join another colony. And that colony may have limited sites, or limited recognisable sites.

    The best thing we can probably do to support the swifts is increase the availability of suitable nesting sites in existing colonies that can be most effectively protected. Getting the local community involved and with a strong sense of ownership has worked well here where my project is and we have agreements with the local people and businesses to build swift sites in to new construction. We also obtained a small grant to provide free swift box installations on twenty houses which already have swifts nesting. Once we get a good level of occupancy we can begin ringing and recapturing birds which we hope will give us some indication of natal site fidelity and adult survival over time. But therein lies the difficulty. Getting them to occupy the new sites.

    Boxes are not immediately recognised by the swifts as possible nesting opportunities and need to be encouraged in. Our experience this year is that only six have been used by swifts, and those are boxes in very close proximity to established sites. However, what should happen is that any birds hatching in them and returning in subsequent years will have box-recognition and so, little by little occupancy should increase. That’s the theory anyway.

    Swift conservation is quite complicated and rather slow. But they desperately need our support and in many ways, getting started can be as easy as putting up some boxes. And you don’t need to spend £60 per box either. We made all our boxes ourselves and it came to between £5 and £10 per box installed. Plans are readily available on line. If you can get a licensed ringer involved, all the better – although very few of us get to ring swift and it’s a rather specialist business for which there are very specific guidelines.

    If anyone would like further information about what we’ve done with a view to starting a similar project please do email me: austin(dot)hackney(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk

    (fill in the right symbols in the brackets – that’s just to minimise spam).