For anyone who has ever visited the great open grasslands of Africa or who cares about the critical role played by scavengers as the great ecosystem cleaners, today has been a wake-up call. IUCN have published their latest Red List of species threatened with extinction and the headlines are sober reading for conservationists:
’24 bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction (either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) in the 2015 Red List update of birds, with seven species being upgraded to Critically Endangered. Another 16 bird species have seen their status change from Least Concern (the lowest level of threat) to Near Threatened. 23 species have been downgraded to lower threat categories.’
Back to the vultures, and now 4 of African species are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ and 2 species as ‘Endangered’. Having seen at least 4 of these species (need to check my notes but Egyptian, White-backed, Lappet-faced and Ruppels Griffon are certainly there), this really is a reality check. The reasons for this terrible state of affairs are varied and rather than state them here, I will leave that up to an excellent guest blog piece by Chris Bowden, RSPB’s Globally Threatened Species Officer, on Mark Avery’s blog (Mark is the ex-RSPB Director of Conservation).
As a native Brit, the new list has now highlighted declines in some of the most iconic species in the UK. Well, iconic in my view anyway! Population declines of farmland and cliff-nesting seabirds were certainly two pressing (and depressing) priorities, rising up the conservation agenda. Familiar species like the Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Northern Lapwing had their conservation status uplisted, with puffin ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction. The lesser-known (but bird of the year in New Zealand, 2015) Bar-tailed Godwit is also included. Atlantic Puffin was one of the 10 species shortlisted in a recent vote for the National Bird of Great Britain, and although it came tenth (I voted for it), it is still a much-loved species. Just not as loved as the plain garden Robin apparently! The causes of these declines are going to be different for all these species, yet at the root of all of them are the impacts of people on the natural environment.
There were 3 other species present in the UK on the list which should be of special interest to people in Manitoba. These are:
- Horned Grebe (known as Slavonian Grebe in the UK) (IUCN – Vulnerable)
- Common Eider (IUCN – Near threatened)
- Red Knot (IUCN – Near threatened)
Of these species, the Horned Grebe and Common Eider both breed in Manitoba.
Horned Grebe has not previously been recognised as a trigger species for any of Manitoba’s IBAs but with this new Red Listing, one or two of our IBAs may now be considered globally important. Birdlife International have identified that this species is undergoing rapid declines due to forestry operations, human disturbance, fluctuating water levels in lakes and introduction of Rainbow Trout. In fact the decline in North America has been -75.9% over 40 years. According to the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas, Horned Grebe breed across Manitoba but concentrate in a few areas, including in and around the southwestern IBAs and the Saskatchewan River Delta IBA. For most birders, Horned Grebe are more regularly recorded on passage, including recently at North, West and Eastern Shoal Lakes IBA (and in the fall near my house in Winnipeg).
Much like another sea duck, the Long-tailed Duck, the Common Eider is not considered endangered in Canada. According to Birdlife International, the recent uplisting to ‘Near-threatened’ is due to slight declines in the European population (>40% over three generations). Here in Manitoba we have the Hudson’s Bay subspecies (c. 6% of the global population) which breed in coastal areas including pools and lagoons in the far north of the province. Although previously considered a trigger species in any of Manitoba’s IBAs, the best place for viewing them is within the Churchill and Vicinity IBA. Indeed, our very own Bonnie Chartier recorded 125 during a trip in June this year. Another IBA with records on eBird for this species is Seal River Estuary IBA, north of Churchill.
Our final species is the Red Knot. The ‘rufa’ subspecies in North America was already considered as threatened but today we learn that the entire species is now globally ‘Near threatened’. Birdlife International justify the new status as ‘two subpopulations use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and have experienced significant declines owing to loss of habitat in the Yellow Sea’. They also acknowledge declines in other subpopulations including our own. Red knot do not breed in Manitoba, yet they are often recorded on passage. Again, Churchill and Vicinity IBA is the most important place in Manitoba for this species (3500 were recorded in spring 1974, continental important numbers). Other sites where Red Knot were recorded in 2015 include Riverton Sandy Bar IBA, Whitewater Lake IBA and Delta Marsh IBA.
It is not all bad news. Hidden away in the gloom are some conservation success stories, such as the Audouin’s Gull. But the implications are there to see. IBAs are only likely to become more important in the future for declining species of bird, and careful stewardship of Manitoba’s IBAs will be our contribution to a global program of site conservation.