Story at a glance
- A new report from BirdLife International details the current state of bird populations around the world.
- Expansion of the agricultural industry, along with chemicals and equipment used, have affected 73 percent of endangered bird species.
- Authors call for increased conservation efforts to help reverse these declines.
The latest State of the World’s Birds report from BirdLife International paints a bleak picture of species in decline, due in large part to the effects of human activity.
The report, which is released every four years, found that nearly half of the world’s bird species are in decline and just 6 percent are currently increasing in population. One in 8 species — or 1,409 in total — face extinction, while since 1970, nearly 3 billion birds have been lost in North America, marking a 29 percent decline.
In the European Union, a region five times smaller than North America, a further 600 million birds have died since 1980. Similar trends appear to be playing out around the world.
“We have already lost over 160 bird species in the last 500 years, and the rate of extinction is accelerating,” said Lucy Haskell, a science officer for BirdLife and lead author of the report, in a statement.
“Historically, most extinctions were on islands, but worryingly there is a growing wave of continental extinctions, driven by landscape-scale habitat loss.”
Data in the report was compiled by researchers, conservationists and citizen scientists and reflect the toll of human agricultural activities on birds around the world.
Areas where agriculture has expanded, along with machinery and chemicals used in the sector, have together affected 73 percent of threatened species.
In Europe, the agricultural sector contributed to a more than 55 percent decline in the region’s farmland birds since 1980. Unsustainable rates of logging and forest management also contribute to global declines and affect almost half of threatened bird species. More than 7 million hectares of forest are lost each year around the world.
Invasive species and climate change pose additional threats to bird populations along with “bycatch from fisheries, expanding residential and commercial development, the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires, and poorly planned energy production,” authors wrote.
It’s estimated climate change affects around 34 percent of threatened species through factors like storms and drought. As natural disasters continue to become more frequent and intense, they will pose a greater threat to biodiversity.
“Most species are impacted by combinations of these threats, and some threats exacerbate others,” authors added.
Development of certain infrastructure like powerlines, roads and railways can negatively impact birds, while poorly planned expansions of urban areas could exacerbate these effects.
Despite the grim outlook, there are solutions to the decline. In December, the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting will take place, during which experts will finalize and adopt a 10-year plan aimed at addressing the planet’s declining biodiversity.
“Many parts of the world are already experiencing extreme wildfires, droughts, heatwaves and floods, as human-transformed ecosystems struggle to adapt to climate change,” said BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita in a statement.
“While the COVID pandemic and global cost of living crisis have undoubtedly diverted attention from the environmental agenda, global society must remain focused on the biodiversity crisis.”
Conservation and effective management of the 13,600 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are a top priority for the organization and can be accomplished with the help of local communities or Indigenous Peoples.
Additional measures include preserving remaining intact habitats and restoring degraded ecosystems, authors wrote, along with efforts to prevent overexploitation, illegal bird killings, managing invasive species, and minimizing the negative effects of energy infrastructure like power lines.
Species-specific interventions can include captive breeding and release or moving birds to more suitable habitats.
Since 1993, between 21 and 32 bird species could have gone extinct if not for conservation efforts undertaken to preserve the animals. Because birds help pollinate plants and control agricultural pests, these efforts can directly benefit humans, as well. Increased biodiversity has been shown to boost mental health, while bird waste can help fertilize land.
“There are many examples of species being saved from extinction, populations recovering, threats being effectively managed and ecosystems being restored. However, time is running out,” authors cautioned.
“The next decade is critical if we are to stop unraveling the fabric of life and destroying our global safety net. Governments must adopt a Global Biodiversity Framework with ambitious commitments to ensure transformative change and urgent implementation of action. The future of the world’s birds and ultimately our own species depends upon it.”