More than 1,200 birds face extinction

ROBERT ALLISON – ORILLIA TODAY

About 1,226 of the world’s 9,856 bird species are edging towards extinction, according to the most recent avian status evaluation by BirdLife International.  

An additional 835 species are believed to be ‘near threatened’. All avian species considered at risk of endangerment appear on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the international authority that ultimately classifies species in terms of extinction risk.

Since 1500, 134 bird species have disappeared from the face of the earth, and four more occur only in captivity. Some 18 species vanished between 1975 and 2000, and three have disappeared since 2000.

According to the IUCN, there has been a steady deterioration in avian status globally in the past several decades. The main causes of species loss are the expansion of agriculture and logging. Invasive (non-native) species have caused the extinction of about one-third of those species that have vanished.

According to BirdLife International, many birds are being impacted upon by the “double whammy” of habitat loss and climate change. Severe droughts, such as Australia’s ongoing ‘megadrought’, are threatening an increasing number of avian species, when combined with habitat loss, says biologist Penny Olsen at the Australia National University in Canberra.

Climate change is predicted to worsen droughts in future.

Against such a discouraging backdrop, the IUCN maintains that a few cases in which the status of bird species has recently improved seems rather insignificant.

Contentious exemptions to the Ontario Endangered Species Act have come under fire from conservationists recently. New restrictions under that act come into effect June 30. They include banning of possession and killing of endangered wildlife; 24 species already listed and 10 additional species.

The new ESA also prohibits damage or destruction of the habitat vital to endangered or threatened wildlife.

But, that prohibition does not take effect until 2013. And the overall habitat-protection prohibition does not apply to the forestry industry at all.

According to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the forestry exemption should be withdrawn.

There is also a contentious hydroelectric generating station exemption that needs to be corrected, the FON says.

The new ESA was passed in May 2007.

Habitat loss is thought to be the primary reason for wildlife extinctions, with deforestation a common cause.
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Ontario’s experimental ring-necked pheasant reintroduction program, started in the mid-1990’s, has failed. One of the two introduced stocks has disappeared (Lambton County) and the other is failing fast (Essex County).

Biologists say they are not sure why the program failed. But, it has long been known that in order for wild pheasants to survive winters, they need handy cattail wetlands for shelter.

Forty years ago, researchers established the link between pheasant survival and available cattail stands. Such critical areas are not common in either of the areas where releases took place, and in Essex County, only three per cent of the original  cattail wetlands remain intact.

Originally, it was recommended that wild-trapped winter-hardy stock from South Dakota should be used for the Ontario re-introduction. Instead, wild stock from Saskatchewan was used.

Ontario’s original ring-necked pheasant population died out in the 1980’s, destroyed by habitat loss and excessive hunting. That population originated from releases in the mid-1800’s and the population expanded east to Napanee, north to Barrie and most of southwestern Ontario.

The last few remnant flocks were near Windsor, Hamilton and in Toronto.

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Filed under animals, biodiversity, birds, conservation, ornithology, wildlife, zoology

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