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More than 200 Australian birds are now threatened with extinction – and climate change is the biggest danger
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More than 200 Australian birds are now threatened with extinction – and climate change is the biggest danger

small bird perches on twig


Up to 216 Australian birds are now threatened – compared with 195 a decade ago – and climate change is now the main driver pushing threatened birds closer to extinction, landmark new research has found.

The Mukarrthippi grasswren is now Australia’s most threatened bird, down to as few as two or three pairs. Conservation actions have shown that 23 Australian birds are now less threatened than they were ten years ago.

These findings are in a new publication action planToday’s release. The action plan was last released in 2011. It examines the extinction risks facing almost 1,300 birds in Australia and its territories. The book was edited by over 300 ornithologists.

Many birds will continue to decline and even disappear without any changes. We can prevent these outcomes if we have the right resources and are able to implement conservation action.

small bird perches on twig
Without any change, threatened birds like the southern emu-wren (pictured) will disappear.
Barry Baker

The numbers tell the story

The 216 Australian birds at risk of extinction include:

  • 23 species are critically endangered
  • 74 endangered
  • 87 vulnerable
  • 32 near-threatened.

This is an increase from the 134 birds in 1990, and the 195 that were recorded a decade ago.

We compared the risks of extinction using the following criteria: categories and criteriaSet by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red ListListed as threatened species

As the below graph shows, the picture of bird decline in Australia is not pretty – especially when compared to the global trend.

Authors supplied

What went wrong?

two black birds nuzzling
Changes in their ecosystems can easily cause harm to birds.

Changes in ecosystems can cause damage to birds. This includes introduced species, habitat loss and disturbance to breeding sites. Birds face danger on many fronts. For example, the southeastern glossy dark cockatoo faces more than 20 threats.

Millions of birds are killed by introduced cats and foxes each yearThese birds are considered to be a significant threat to the extinction of 37 birds.

Overgrazing and land clearing are major causes of 55 bird species’ declines, including the swiftparrot and diamond firetail. There is strong evidence that climate change is causing many bird species to decline.

One example is the Wet Tropics in far northern Queensland. Over 17 years, monitoring at 1,970 sites has been done. shownThe local populations of most species at high elevations have declined exactly as climate models predicted. As temperatures rise, birds such as the golden bowerbird and fernwren are being driven to lower elevations.

As a result, 17 upland rainforest birds are now listed as threatened – all due to climate change.

The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 – which were exacerbated by climate change – contributed to the listing of 27 birds as threatened.

We estimate that in just one day alone – January 6, 2020 – about half the population of all 16 bird species endemic or largely confined to Kangaroo Island were incinerated, including the tiny Kangaroo Island southern emu-wren.

Droughts and heatwaves are threatening 91 birds. They include what’s thought to be Australia’s rarest bird, the Mukarrthippi grasswren of central west New South Wales, where just two or three pairs survive.

Climate change is also threatening migratory shorebirds. 25 of the 43 shorebirds which migrate to Australia after breeding in Australia’s Northern Hemisphere are now endangered. Coastal development in East Asia is contributing towards the decline, destruction, and degrading mudflat habitatWhere the birds stop to rest or eat.

But rising seas due to climate change are also an issue consuming mudflats on the birds’ migration route, and the climate in the birds’ Arctic breeding grounds is changingYou can do it faster than anyone else in the world.

Read more:
We name the 26 Australian frogs at greatest risk of extinction by 2040 — and how to save them

dead bird lies one charred ground
Some bird populations were devastated by the Black Summer bushfires.
James Ross/AAP

The good news

Research shows that 23 Australian bird species are at lower risk of extinction. The criteria for being endangered has been met for the southern cassowary. After its rainforest habitat was added to the World Heritage List in 1988, land clearing stopped and the population is now stable.

Other birds are conservation success stories. For example, the prospects for the Norfolk Island green parrot, Albert’s lyrebird and bulloo grey grasswren improved after efforts to reduce threats and protect crucial habitat in conservation reserves.

Many key species, once declining, have seen their populations stabilize or increase through intensive conservation efforts. These include the eastern hooded plumper, Kangaroo Island glossy Black-cockatoo, and eastern bristlebird.

On Macquarie Island, there are also efforts to eradicateThe dramatic recovery of seabird numbers has been made possible by rodents and rabbits. As a result, the extinction risk for nine seabirds has been reduced.

There’s also been progress in reducing the bycatch of seabirds from fishing boats, although there is much workThere is still much to do.

Continue reading:
Australia’s smallest fish among 22 at risk of extinction within two decades

lyrebird under leaves
The Albert’s lyrebird has been a conservation success.
Barry Baker

Management of threats

The research also examined the impact of each threat to birds – from which we can measure progress in conservation action. For 136 species, we are alarmingly ignorant about how to reduce the threats – especially climate change.

63% of critical threats are managed in a very limited or non-existent manner. And management is high quality for just 10% of “high impact” threats. For most threats, the major impediments to progress is technical – we don’t yet know what to do. The other half of threats face a financial block.

What’s more, there’s no effective monitoring of 30% of the threatened birds, and high-quality monitoring for only 27%.

Despite this, much has happened since the 2010 action plan. We hope that the 2030 report will paint a better picture of Australian birds with the new plan and the actions it recommends.

Continue reading:
Australia’s threatened species protections are being rewritten. But what’s really needed is money and legal teeth


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