Category Archives: ornithology

Another creature edging towards extinction!


OUT OF the nine species of storks found throughout North-east Asia, the adjutant stork is the largest. The population of this species is dwindling fast. At the beginning of the 19th century, Assam was the habitat for lakhs of greater adjutant storks. After India’s Uttaranchal, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, the Brahmaputra valley has been the main habitat for this fast-dwindling species of stork. But now, ironically, they can be easily counted in this once highly-populated habitat.

Deepor Beel and Silsaku Beel were some of the famous wetlands of Guwahati known as the resting grounds of these species of storks.

Apart from these, a flock of greater adjutant storks was also sighted near Guwahati Commerce College, Hajimusaphirkhana and Maligaon’s Aruna Cinema Hall. But now only a few of them can be seen in parts of Deepor Beel, Charusala Beel and Hajimusaphirkhana. But quite noticeably, a few years back, a number of birds belonging to this species died because of some unknown reason in Deepor Beel.

It is to be noted here that this particular species of stork plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance. Lack of proper habitat and food are the major causes behind the declining number of this species. And since food is a major requirement for reproduction, a planned conservation measure is the only means to ensure their continuation.

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Development threatening endangered cockatoo


The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says better town planning is needed to maintain the habitat of the carnaby’s black cockatoo so that it does not become extinct.

The birds are found in the south-west of Western Australia, and the fund says numbers have fallen by more than 50 per cent in the past 45 years.

It blames the rising development in the area which is destroying the birds’ habitat.

The carnaby’s black cockatoo is listed as endangered by the Federal Government

Michael Roache from WWF says plants in the birds’ habitat need to be replanted.

“We don’t necessarily place the true value on environmental services or indeed habitat for biodiversity. In south-west WA we have so many threatened species because of those threats of development,” he said.

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Endangered vulture closer to extinction


ANN ARBOR, Mich., Sept. 9 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say captive breeding colonies of a critically endangered vulture are too small to protect the bird species from extinction.With a seven-foot wingspan, the oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) was an awesome presence in south Asia until the mid-1990s, when populations in the tens of millions began to collapse. A University of Michigan study led by Jeff Johnson determined the decline was caused by an anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, used to alleviate arthritis-like symptoms in livestock. The drug is fatally toxic to vultures.

Although India, Nepal and Pakistan outlawed its manufacture in 2006, diclofenac is still available and birds are still dying.

The scientists said the absence of vultures poses a threat to public health, since uneaten livestock carcasses provide breeding grounds for bacteria.

“We know the problem, and we know the solution,” said Johnson, now an assistant professor at the University of North Texas-Denton. “We just need to get diclofenac out of the environment and more birds into protection before it is too late.”

The research that included Martin Gilbert, Munir Virani, Muhammad Asim and former University of Michigan professor David Mindell appeared in the Aug. 15 online edition of the journal Biological Conservation.

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More than 1,200 birds face extinction


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.
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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‘Act now to rescue Scotland’s birds of prey’


DOZENS of conservation groups have banded together to call for efforts to tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey to be stepped up.
They want laws protecting the birds to be properly enforced.

The 26 groups, including RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Ramblers’ Association Scotland and the SSPCA, made their demand in a joint report, On a Wing and a Prayer.

It highlights current levels of Scotland’s 15 species in the wild and shows that although some have recovered dramatically from near-extinction – such as the buzzard, which now numbers more than 40,000 across the UK – others are still at risk.

One of these is the white-tailed eagle, which was reintroduced in Scotland in 1975 after it was hunted to extinction. The birds have not been able to reach a stable level, due to deliberate killing and egg collecting.

The report says that even though nine of the UK’s 15 birds of prey have seen numbers increase in recent years, illegal activity remains a key threat to the future of some species.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said it was very difficult to find out about crimes against birds of prey.

“Most of the crimes against birds of prey take place in remote areas. It’s much easier to conceal an incident than to find one,” he said.

But he also said more could be done by police.

“Wildlife crime needs to be treated as if it was any other crime. We have long been saying that perhaps it is the poor relation of the justice system.

“We are not saying that wildlife crime deserves the resources that are devoted to serious human crime but it should be at least treated as a form of normal crime.”

And although he thinks many landowners have played an important role in helping protect birds of prey, he added: “I’m afraid there’s a persistent number of people who are still involved in wildlife crime.”

Keith Arbuthnott, chairman of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association and Sir Alastair Gordon Cumming, chairman of the Scottish Estates Business Group, have also called for landowners to step up their vigilance over wildlife crime.

They are urging members to report any suspicious incidents.

In a joint statement, they said: “A small number of rogue owners and their contractors continue to flout the law.”

But they said: “Landowners and land managers across the vast majority of Scotland’s estates recognise that the future success of some of our most iconic bird species, and in particular birds of prey, lies in their hands.”

They said their members had been involved in numerous bird of prey initiatives.

The calls for action follow a report by Scotland’s police watchdog that said more needed to be done on wildlife crime.

It said insufficient police officers dedicated to catching offenders, inadequate reporting and poor use of intelligence were among the problems.

It suggested every police force should have a full-time wildlife crime officer, and that a minimum standard for investigations should be set.

The environment minister, Michael Russell, is due to give a detailed response to parliament later this year.

Spreading their wings

• Hen harrier: Hunted nearly to extinction in UK by 1900. Now 800 pairs but illegal killing still a problem.

• White tailed eagle: Reintroduced in 1975 after being hunted to extinction; now 42 pairs. Threatened due to egg-collecting and illegal killing.

• Golden eagle: Fell to 80 pairs in late 19th century. Now about 420 pairs, almost all in Scotland, but still suffering illegal killings.

• Honey buzzard: Scarce summer visitors to the UK; about 100 breeding pairs.

• Kestrel: Once the most common bird of prey in the UK – now 36,800 and falling, possibly due to lack of prey.

• Marsh harrier: Extinct by 1898 due to killings and drainage of wetlands. Now about 360 breeding females.

• Merlin: Dropped to 550 pairs in mid-20th century due to killings and pesticide use. Now about 1,300 pairs, but loss of habitat a problem.

• Montagu’s harrier: Scarce visitors to the UK; fewer than ten pairs.

• Ospreys: Extinct by 1916. Started to breed again in 1954 – now more than 200 pairs in Scotland.

• Peregrines: Numbers at highest for 50 years, with more than 1,400 pairs. Has not recovered in north of Scotland due to persecution.

• Red kite: Reintroduction started in 1989, but today just 40 pairs in Scotland, against 350 in England, though the same number were released in each area.

• Buzzard: Numbers have recovered rapidly as rabbit population rose – their prey. Now about 44,000.

• Goshawk: Hunted to extinction but re-established by falconers from 1950s. Now more than 400 pairs.

• Hobby: Thriving – about 2,200 pairs – perhaps due to rise in dragonfly prey.

• Sparrowhawk: Pesticides caused decline in mid-20th century. Now stable, with about 40,000 pairs.


THE Scotsman is committed to helping the SSPCA catch those responsible for killing birds of prey and wildlife.

Information about raptor poisonings and other incidents of wildlife crime can be passed to police via the National Wildlife Crime Unit in North Berwick on 01620 893607.

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Extinction threat to Scots bird

BBC News

The Scottish crossbill, the UK’s only endemic bird which is native to the Highlands of Scotland, faces extinction, according to a new report.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warns that unless action is taken to halt a rise in global temperatures, the species is under severe threat.

The bird, which lives only in Scots pine forests, is already on the conservation body’s endangered list.

Other Scottish species, such as the capercaillie, could also suffer.

The Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds – published by the RSBP – shows that three quarters of all of Europe’s nesting bird species are likely to suffer declines in range.

The results of the study have hastened calls by the RSPB for urgent action to cut greenhouse gases.

Professor Rhys Green, an RSPB scientist and one of the authors, said: “Climatic change and wildlife’s responses to it are difficult to forecast with any precision, but this study helps us to appreciate the magnitude and scope of possible impacts and to identify species at most risk and those in need of urgent help and protection.”

Red and black grouse, ptarmigan and snow bunting are other birds likely to be affected in Scotland. The birds could be left with few areas of suitable climate and populations could drop.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “We must heed the wake-up call provided by this atlas and act immediately to curb climate change.”

He claimed that some investment should also be made to help wildlife adapt to an “inevitable” level of climate change.

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‘Vulture population declining alarmingly’

Nepal News

Four out of eight species of vulture found in Nepal are included in endangered list of the IUCN- the world conservation union. They are White Rumped (Gyps beldgalensis), Slender Billed (Gyps tenuirostris), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopteros) and Red headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus). Additionally, the first two are termed ‘critically endangered’.

White rumped Vulture (Photo Courtesy: BCN)

Following the warning from the IUCN over the possible extinction of vultures from Nepal, Birds Conservation Nepal (BCN) took several initiatives to increase the population of the birds here. Latest estimation show the number of nests found in west of Narayani River Chitwan National Park Buffer Zone Area and east Nawalparasi District  has doubled. President of BCN Shree Ram Subedi talked to Indra Adhikari of Nepalnews on the ongoing conservation efforts, causes of extinction and initiatives taken to increase their population. Excerpts:

What evidences show vultures are the endangered species of birds in Nepal?

We don’t have exact data to show how many vultures are found in Nepal. Practically it is impossible to maintain a reliable record. Yet there are few instances that show the number is declining at an alarming rate. In 2001 we counted 50 nests in Koshi Tappu. Next year it dropped to three and one in the following year. Since 2003, we have not found any nest in that wetland. Likewise, we had found 24 nests in Pokhara in 2004. This number dropped to 17 till 2006. Similarly, in the middle of the 1990s, these carnivorous birds could be seen in big flocks. This hasn’t been witnessed in recent years. IUCN conservationists have warned that population has decreased by 90 percent since 1990.

What are the causes of declining population of vultures?

Only in 1999, scientists came know that vultures are decreasing in this sub-continent. Since then, they explored to various studies and concluded in 2003 that diclofenic – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – caused the death of these birds. Carcasses of the NSAID-fed animals were the major cause of death. When its complement – Maloxicam — was discovered, we lobbied for government ban on the use of diclofenic in 2006.

(Photo Courtesy: BCN)

Besides, use of pesticides by farmers, confinements of the nest colonies, lack of adequate food because people started burying dead animals and cutting down of the trees led to extinction of these birds. The practice of cattle rearing has decreased, causing scarcity of food, specifically safe food. The government lacks initiative to stop destroying forests where vultures live. All these are the major factors for decreasing population.

What is BCN doing for saving these birds from extinction?

We started ‘vulture restaurants’ in some nesting areas. This was meant to feed the vultures with safe food since this has become scarcer in recent years. We asked the villagers to provide us with old cattle. We rear the cattle and on their death keep in open places where the vultures can feed on. Similarly, we have improved coordination with the community forest user groups to protect the forests where the vultures nest. We successfully campaigned for ban in use of the diclofenic. Within a year, the use has dropped to 10 percent. Now, we have begun a new project to increase the vulture population – a breeding centre. To be located at an isolated place inside Chitwan National Park, a natural cage will be prepared where we project to keep 10 pairs each of the two critically endangered species.

Are the local communities cooperative to conservation?

(Photo Courtesy: BCN)
Slender billed Vulture (Photo Courtesy: BCN)

With efforts of BCN, WWF, IUCN and many forest user groups, awareness on importance of vulture among the villagers is increasing. In Nawalparasi where we have vulture restaurants, villagers supply us with old livestock. In few instances, we also bought animals. Many farmers have reported us about the chopping of big trees where vultures have nested. As we communicated the issue with ministry of forest, many vulture colonies have been saved from being destroyed.

Are conservation efforts for this endangered bird satisfactory?

Not much. Though the responses to our approach were positive, the government has not shown seriousness at par with the graveness of the situation. The government must be proactive. Since most forests have been handed over to the communities, the local communities have to be made proactive towards protection issue and increase their involvement. Derisory resources available with us also hindered conservation efforts. Jan 17 08

(Editor’s Note: Nepalnews will continue this column by talking to officials, professionals, politicians, businessmen, diplomats, those who make outstanding achievements in their chosen field and newsmakers. Please post your suggestions/comments to


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