The birds of the world are in serious trouble, and common species are in now decline all over the globe, a comprehensive new review suggests today.
From the turtle doves of Europe to the vultures of India, from the bobwhite quails of the US to the yellow cardinals of Argentina, from the eagles of Africa to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean, the numbers of once-familiar birds are tumbling everywhere, according to the study from the conservation partnership BirdLife International.
Their falling populations are compelling evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment that is affecting all life on earth – including human life, BirdLife says in its report, State of The World’s Birds.
The report, released today with an accompanying website at the BirdLife World Conservation Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, identifies many key global threats, including the intensification of industrial-scale agriculture and fishing, the spread of invasive species, logging, and the replacement of natural forest with monocultural plantations.
It goes on to suggest that in the long term, human-induced climate change may be the most serious stress.
Based in Cambridge, BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries and territories which is now the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting them.
When brought together, as in its new report, the regional pictures of bird declines combine to present a startling picture of a whole class of living things on a steep downward slope.
A remarkable 45 per cent of common European birds are declining, with the familiar European turtle dove, for example, having lost 62 per cent of its population in the last 25 years, while on the other side of the globe, resident Australian wading birds have seen population losses of 81 per cent in the same period.
Twenty common North American birds have more than halved in number in the last four decades, while in Asia, the millions of white-rumped vultures which once filled the skies have crashed by 99.9 per cent and the species is now critically endangered.
“Many of these birds have been a familiar part of our everyday lives, and people who would not necessarily have noticed other environmental indicators have seen their numbers slipping away, and are wondering why,” said Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s chief executive.
All the world’s governments have committed themselves to slowing or halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010, but reluctance to commit what are often trivial sums in terms of national budgets means that this target is almost certain to be missed, according to the report.
“Birds provide an accurate and easy-to-read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world’s biodiversity,” Dr Rands said.
“Because these creatures are found almost everywhere on earth, they can act as our eyes and ears, and what they are telling us is that the deterioration in biodiversity and the environment is accelerating, not slowing.
“Effective biodiversity conservation is easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy. For example, to maintain the protected area network which would safeguard 90 percent of Africa’s biodiversity would cost less than $1bn a year. Yet in a typical year, the global community provides about $300m.
“The world is failing in its 2010 pledge. The challenge is to harness international biodiversity commitments and ensure that concrete actions are taken now.”