Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken. Such is the considered assessment of the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This respected index, produced by an international network of species experts and partner organizations, analyzes global factors contributing to extinction risk such as rate of decline, population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and distribution fragmentation. The numbers are numbing: there are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List and 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation.
According to the newest data, One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants are in jeopardy. Great apes are in decline, corals and seaweeds are fading,and even some plants are going extinct.
The IUCN Species Survival Commission is extremely thorough when it comes to appraising the prospects of global avifauna, looking at virtually every known species. For this, we can thank BirdLife International for their meticulous World Bird Database. This thoroughness stands in marked contrast to their insight into most other major taxonomic groups where the number of species evaluated may be a tenth or less of the number known.
Of the 9.956 bird species evaluated, 1,217 were deemed threatened or worse. This is only a 9 species increase over 2006, but represents 12% of the total number of species described or evaluated. On the bright side, it means that 7,715 bird species are in the category of Lower Risk/Least Concern.
That the status of the greater portion of evaluated birds remained unchanged from 2006 should be considered good news, as those birds whose prospects have changed are, in most cases, worse off for it. The Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered, while the Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) made a larger leap from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered, just a hair’s breadth from extinction. The Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and St Helena Plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) are staring down the barrel of a similar sorry fate. Five different species of Old World Vulture have moved from the coveted realm of Least Concern to a state of greater threat. The grim litany goes on and on, species navigating the strata between abundance and extirpation. In fact, only one species n the entire list, the Mauritius Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques), has seen an upgrade, however minute, in its prognosis.
The Red List shows very little movement either way in the status of North American birds. I am sorry to see that the Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is now considered vulnerable but we’ve had our eye on this besieged blackbird for some time. Anecdotally, I saw a decline in rusties this past year which culminated in Charlie and I missing the species entirely on a visit to its Bronx wintering grounds. On the other hand, Corey and I spied a breeding pair (not actually engaged in procreation, thank you) tucked into a pocket lake in the Adirondacks in June. Vulnerable is hardly a death sentence, but unless we know what specific steps to take to prevent a further deterioration in this or any other species’ health, it’s certainly a harbinger of worse news to come.