13 Jun 2018
One in eight bird species is in danger of extinction – but what are the main factors driving their decline? They might not be what you think. Read about the five biggest threats to bird biodiversity, and what’s being done to combat them.
By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins
Sometimes it’s easy to see what’s harming birds – especially if it’s in your backyard. The cat with a bird between its teeth, or the tragic pile of feathers by the side of the motorway. But the bigger threats are less visual, and less direct.
This doesn’t make them any less urgent. Our latest report, State of the World’s Birds 2018, found that one in eight birds is in danger of extinction, and 40% of the world’s 10,000+ species are declining. Worryingly, the birds in danger now include familiar species such as the Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica, Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus and European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur. The chief driving forces are, as the paper’s editor-in-chief Tris Allinson said, “invariably of humanity’s making”. But that also means we can strive to reverse them.
1. Industrial Farming
Crop pesticides are poison to the White-crowned Sparrow © Tim Lenz
The problem: More than a third of the earth’s land surface is dedicated to agriculture. We often think of farmland as an idyllic, natural landscape; but the expansion and intensification of farming impacts a massive 74% of globally threatened birds. Not only does it destroy much-needed habitats, especially in tropical regions, but some pesticides are poisonous to birds. A recent study from the USA found that migrating White-crowned Sparrows Zonotrichia leucophrys exposed to a class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids lost a quarter of their body mass and fat stores.