Researchers with BirdLife International, using a new statistical method to analyze available data for dozens of bird species classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, reached the somber conclusion in a paper recently published in the journal Biological Conservation.
The team determined that at least four of these species ― including the cryptic treehunter, Alagoas foliage-gleaner and po’ouli, also known as the black-faced honeycreeper ― should now be reclassified as extinct. Four other species, including Spix’s macaw, a Brazilian parrot with bright blue plumage made famous by the 2011 animated film “Rio,” and the Pernambuco pygmy owl, should be considered “possibly extinct,” the researchers said.
Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s chief scientist, told The Guardian this week that his team had exercised extreme caution before deciding to recommend these reclassifications. The “possibly extinct” designation, he stressed, means the species was determined to have “almost certainly” vanished in the wild.
These are the first avian extinctions to be confirmed this decade, The Guardian said.
In the case of Spix’s macaw, a few dozen birds still exist in captivity and there are efforts underway to reintroduce them to Brazil’s forests. It’s unclear, however, whether these efforts will prove fruitful.
The BirdLife researchers noted an alarming characteristic of the newly confirmed extinct bird species. Unlike most bird extinctions, which historically have happened on small islands because of hunting or invasive species, five of the new extinctions have occurred in South America (four of them in Brazil) due to human habitat destruction.
“People think of extinctions and think of the dodo but our analysis shows that extinctions are continuing and accelerating today,” Butchart told The Guardian. “Historically 90 percent of bird extinctions have been small populations on remote islands. Our evidence shows there is a growing wave of extinctions washing over the continent driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging.”
The latest extinction report follows a dire warning issued earlier year by BirdLife about threats facing the world’s birds.
The conservation group said in an April report that a staggering 40 percent of the globe’s 11,000 bird species worldwide were in decline, with one in eight bird species threatened with extinction.
BirdLife noted at the time that several beloved and familiar birds, like the snowy owl, Atlantic puffin and European turtledove, were among the species at risk of disappearing forever.
“The data are unequivocal,” Tris Allinson, a senior BirdLife scientist, said in a statement about the report. “We are undergoing a steady and continuing deterioration in the status of the world’s birds. The threats driving the avian extinction crisis are many and varied, but invariably of humanity’s making.”
BirdLife said this week it hopes news about the eight extinctions will ignite action to address the threats facing birds and other species.
“Obviously it’s too late to help some of these iconic species,” Butchart said. “We hope this study will inspire a redoubling of efforts to prevent other extinctions.”
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