10 Birds Threatened by Climate Change

A growing number of bird species are threatened by the effects of global warming. Rising seas cause a loss of coastal habitats and nesting areas. Ocean warming upsets the close links between seabirds and their marine prey. Heatwaves can damage habitats and disrupt the food web. Unseasonable temperatures can upset life-cycle events, like mating, egg hatching and migration. We explain the plight of migrating birds, like Siberian Cranes; species of seabirds like albatrosses and storm petrels, and coastal-nesters like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Blue and Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna), also known as the blue-and-gold macaw
The vivid blue-and-yellow macaw (Ara ararauna) can live up to 35 years in the wild. Photo: © Luc Viatour (CC BY 2.0)

This article looks at birds that are threatened by climate change, such as migrating birds, coastal-nesting birds and seabirds. Most are listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. See also: 10 Endangered Birds of Prey.

Human activities are forcing major changes in biological communities around the world, and these changes are having a damaging impact on birds and the health of the ecosystem upon which they depend. Biodiversity in the bird kingdom is critical for the health of plants – without whom no life is possible – and for the general health of the biosphere. Any serious loss of biodiversity – of birds or indeed any other group of animals – would have a significant impact on human life.

Should humans take into account the needs of birds and other living creatures before making decisions affecting climate? For answers to this and other moral issues, see our article on the ethics of climate change.

Threats

Bird survival is typically influenced by a variety of threats. Most are man-made, including global warming which is merely one of them, although it is likely to become more damaging as our climate crisis worsens.

The biggest man-made threats to birds, include: (a) Loss of habitat (e.g. caused by wildfires – like the Australian bushfires – deforestation or land use change). (b) Over-exploitation of natural resources (e.g. abuse of water supplies by mining industry, or super-intensive agriculture). (c) Pollution (e.g. through pesticides, overuse of nitrogen fertilizers, mining industry tailings ponds, and microplastics). (d) Introduction of alien species (e.g. the gypsy moth, grey squirrel, cane toad, Indian mongoose). (e) Climate change resulting from man-made greenhouse gas emissions that trap excessive heat in the lower atmosphere.

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Climate Change Increases Risk of Extinction For Birds

The effects of climate change on animals include a number of serious problems for birds, such as: (a) Sea level rise, causing a loss of coastal habitats and nesting areas. (b) Ocean warming, which disrupts the synchronicity between the biological rhythms in seabirds and their marine preys like sardines and squid. (c) Heatwaves on land, resulting in loss of habitat – witness the terrible Arctic fires and Australian bushfires – as well as disruptions to the food web, and also to annually recurring biological events, such as the timing of mating, egg hatching and migration – collectively known as phenological shifts. 1

There are about 18,000 species of birds in the world 2 and according to the IUCN Red List, roughly 14 percent of all bird species are already threatened by extinction. 3 What’s more, over 30 percent of our breeding birds are now declining in numbers and need conservation support. Climate change will only add to the stresses on birds and other wildlife, and will inevitably cause more species to become extinct. For example, warmer temperatures overland are forcing birds to winter and breed farther north than they used to. A study of over 300 North American bird species discovered that, on average, they were wintering 40 miles farther north than they used to in the 1960s. 4

Which Birds Are Most Threatened by Climate Change?

Ornithologists regard three categories as being especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming: birds who migrate long distances; birds who breed and nest in coastal areas; and sea birds.

Migrating Birds

Why does climate change impact migratory birds in particular? Migratory species require suitable conditions throughout their annual cycle: on their breeding grounds, in their non-breeding range, and along migratory routes between the two. Climate change has the potential to disrupt conditions in all three stages.

At least 8 out of 10 of European long-distance migrating birds will experience significant increases in the distance and time taken to migrate between their breeding and non-breeding habitats. For example, by 2070, the Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia) also known as the Sprosser, will have to fly for an extra 800 km (500 miles), which will add at least five more days to its migration journey. The richly colored European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) migrations will increase by around 1,000 km (625 miles). 5

Unfortunately, a longer migration journey entails an increased risk of attacks by predators, as well as hunger or starvation as a result of higher energy needs and uncertain food supplies, and exhaustion due to longer exposure to headwinds. All of which is likely to lead to a significant decline in species population.

To aggravate matters further, studies show that these birds appear to be unable to change their migration schedule in accordance with the changes in peak food availability at their destinations. For example, if, due to earth warming, plant fruits become most plentiful two weeks earlier than usual, but migrating birds continue to arrive at their usual time, there will be less food for them at the end of their journey, which may harm their breeding, or the growth of their young.

Coastal-Nesting Birds

Coastal species are among the most vulnerable to global warming. Sea level rise will flood low-lying coastal areas, reducing the number of nesting locations available to coastal and salt marsh birds. Storm surges will further aggravate the loss of nesting habitat.

In addition, studies have shown that some birds will not raise the elevation of their nests, even if they have previously lost a nest to flooding, due to the presence of predators or unsuitable vegetation. 6 7

Warmer sea water also tends to make it more difficult for crustaceans and other marine creatures to form their shells, thus leading to a food shortage for bird species that include a lot of shellfish in their diet. Marine heatwaves – sudden, intense bouts of ocean warming – are being seen more and more often in most of the world’s oceans.

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Seabirds

Seabirds are another group of birds who are especially threatened by climate change. Orders like Sphenisciformes (penguins), Procellariiformes (albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters), Suliformes (gannets), Pelecaniformes (pelicans, water birds) and Charadriiformes (shorebirds, waders) are particularly vulnerable. That’s according to a major new study which analysed the breeding patterns of 62 seabird species over the period 1952-2016. 8

Seabirds, the study found, cannot adapt their biological rhythm to temperature changes in the ocean, in order to stay in tune with the changing breeding patterns of their most common prey, like sardines and squids. This makes it harder for seabirds to find food for their chicks, putting the survival of many seabird populations at risk. According to Raul Ramos, researcher in the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the UB, “this trophic cascade between seabirds and preys, due to global warming, will be particularly harmful to the order of Procellariiformes, mainly for giant petrels, fulmars and albatrosses.”

Why Are Birds Important?

First, because 33 percent of all human food comes from plants that are pollinated by birds, butterflies, or other wildlife. In South Africa, for example, almost 25 percent of Salvia species (shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals) are bird-pollinated.

Second, birds are one of nature’s most important waste-disposal systems. In Africa, Asia and South America, for instance, birds like vultures are fantastic at disposing of animal carcasses, along with all their pathogens and diseases. Whereas, by comparison, feral dogs – the only natural alternative – arrive too late, and instead of absorbing the diseases, simply spread them to other animals and humans.

Thirdly, birds help to disperse seeds in forests and other areas, thus contributing to the growth and spread of trees and other plants. In New Zealand’s woodlands, almost three quarters of the plants have seeds dispersed by birds like honeyeaters.

Fourthly, they help to control insects (e.g. grasshoppers), rodents, and other pests (e.g. spruce budworm) that would otherwise damage crops, trees, and natural ecosystems. A recent review of 103 previous studies reveals that insectivorous birds eat 400 to 500 million metric tons of beetles, flies, ants, moths, crickets and other arthropods per year. 9

Fifthly, they provide important resources for their many host-specific parasites, such as lice that eat only feathers, or flies or mites that hitch a ride on birds from plant to plant.

Sixthly, their presence in (or absence from) an ecosystem may have a general impact on other species. For example, woodpeckers create holes and hollows that are then used by many other species, or their predators. 10

Lastly, seabirds, play a vital role in helping to fertilise marine biomes like coral reefs. For example, island seabirds fly hundreds of kilometers to feed out in the ocean – and on their return to their island, they deposit layers of guano (pungent seabird droppings) at their cliffside colonies. These droppings leach into the sea and fertilise the marine food web in nearby communities such as coral reefs. Studies show that on islands without invasive seabird predators (like rats), coral reefs blossomed, compared to rat-infested islands. 11

Top 10 Birds Threatened by Climate Change

1. Whooping Crane

The whooping crane is named after its whooping sound. Along with the sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis), it is one of only two crane species living in North America.

The sole surviving Whooping Crane population in the wild, spends the winter on the Gulf Coast, mainly in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, in Texas, and breeds in Canada’s Northwest Territories and Alberta, mainly in Wood Buffalo National Park, or in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. The Canadian breeding grounds consist of boggy, poorly drained soil and shallow wetlands. The cranes nest in raised hollows surrounded by bulrushes and other aquatic plants. These wetlands are interspersed with woods of white and black spruce, willows and birch. Their Texan winter habitat consists of estuarine marshes, tidal flats and shallow bays. Within their range farther inland, there are sandy, gently rolling grasslands with scattered trees. The cranes feed in croplands and roost in freshwater wetlands.

The cranes typically arrive at their summer nesting grounds in April and May to breed. Young whooping cranes then leave the nest and head south in September, following the migratory trail through Texas. During their migration, most stop over at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, which hosts over three quarters of the species each year.

Whooping Cranes feed on invertebrates, small vertebrates, and plant material, which they find above and below the ground and in shallow water. They also find insects, berries, and seeds from low vegetation, stabbing larger animals with their bills. In Canada, breeding cranes eat crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, snakes, voles, mice, and berries. In Wisconsin, they primarily feed on aquatic animals. During migration, cranes also eat waste grains of barley, wheat, or corn taken from harvested fields. On the Gulf Coast they feed on clams, crabs, and other animal foods, along with some plant material such as cranberry, acorns and marsh onions.

The whooping crane’s lifespan is estimated to be about 23 years, in the wild.

The main threats to Whooping Cranes include loss of habitat and unregulated or illegal hunting. Its natural predators include the bobcat, wolverine, grey wolf, red fox, Canada lynx, bald eagle, and golden eagle.

In 1941, loss of habitat led to a surviving population of just 21 wild and two captive cranes. Since then, captive breeding programs have helped numbers to reach around 800 birds. The advent of climate change has led to new worries about the species’ survival. 12

2. Siberian Crane

The Siberian Crane is classified as critically endangered because of fears that its population will plummet over the next three generations due to the development of the Three Gorges Dam in China, which threatens its principal wintering site. Habitat loss along its migratory route, due to changing hydrology caused by human development and now global warming, is another major threat.

The Siberian Crane has three separate populations: eastern, central and western. Historically, the central population used to breed in western Siberia before migrating to India for the winter. Unfortunately, the last recorded sighting of a Siberian Crane in India occurred in 2002. It’s a similar story with the western population, which used to migrate from Russia’s Arctic northwest to the Caspian Sea’s southern coast, in Iran. Now only one surviving crane continues to make the journey.

As a result, the eastern cranes, who breed in Yakutia in northeast Siberia and migrate in late September to China’s the mid-Yangtze River Basin, and the Poyang Lake, have become the last viable population of the species. Every year more than 90 percent of Siberian Cranes arrive in China’s Jiangxi Province in November or December, to spend the winter in the wetlands of Poyang, making it a critical place of refuge for the species.

Cranes live in wetland habitats throughout the year, preferring shallow, fresh water with little if any human disturbance. They feed on roots, seeds, sprouts and tubers of aquatic plants, as well as fish, rodents and other small animals. They start out on their 5,000 km (3,100 mile) return journey to Siberia in March or April, arriving at their breeding grounds in late May.

Unfortunately, following the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the Poyang lake has been shrinking lately, particularly during the winter dry season. Also, large expanses of wetland have been reduced to grassland. The dry season now starts earlier and lasts longer than it used to, because of the decrease in water from the upper section of the Yangtze after the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. 13

Worse still, there are plans – now on hold but not cancelled – for another dam on Poyang (to maintain water levels during the winter), to which numerous objections were raised by the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation experts, since the Siberian cranes depend on the grass and fish in the shallow waters of the lake in winter.

3. Eurasian Oystercatcher

The Eurasian Oystercatcher is a large wader (shorebird) in the oystercatcher (Haematopodidae) bird family, of which there are three species. 14 One species (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus) breeds in Western Europe (Scandinavia to southern Europe) and then winters in Africa; another species (Haematopus ostralegus) breeds in central Eurasia (Siberia), before wintering near the Caspian Sea in Iran; while a third species (Haematopus ostralegus osculans) breeds on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in China, and North Korea, and winters in southern China.

he Eurasian Oystercatcher is one of the birds most threatened by climate change.

The oystercatcher is a vocal plover-like bird, with a strong red bill, red legs, black head and black and white pied plumage. Its bill is used for hammering or prising open molluscs – mainly mussels and cockles – or for probing for earthworms in the mud. Despite its name, it does not eat many oysters. It measures about 45 cm (18 inches) in length, and has a 85-90 cm (3 ft) wingspan. It has a lifespan of 35-40 years.

Oystercatchers breed in April-May in a variety of coastal habitats – on salt-marshes or dunes, or further inland in fields or along water. Outside the breeding season Oystercatchers can be found in mudflats, along estuaries, as well as sandy and rocky shores. They migrate southwards in winter, usually in October, flying by day or night in flocks of 25-70 birds. 15

The Eurasian Oystercatcher is categorized as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as it may be threatened with extinction in the near future. The main threat is loss of nesting areas and coastal habitat, due to sea level rise caused by global warming.

4. Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross  in flight
Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) Conservation status: critically endangered. Seen here off the tropical Galapagos Islands. Photo: © Mark Putney (CC BY 2.0)

Also known as Galapagos albatross, the waved albatross – along with shearwaters and storm petrels – belongs to family Diomedeidae of the order Procellariiformes. Among their more interesting characteristics, these albatrosses produce a stomach oil composed of wax esters and triglyceride fats that is stored in the upper part of the stomach. This serves as an energy rich food source with which to feed their chicks and also for the adults themselves during their long flights. They also have a salt gland in their nose that helps to desalinate their bodies, by excreting a high salt solution. This prevents any toxic effects from the large amounts of ocean water that they ingest.

The Waved Albatross breeds on the island of Espanola in the Galapagos archipelago, located about 970 km (600 miles) off the west coast of South America. Pairs usually make nests in rocky areas, or cliff tops with sparse vegetation, providing them with open landing and take-off areas. Both males and females take part in chick-rearing, flying up to 100km from their nesting sites to find food for their young. 16 Pairs are monogamous, and mate for life unless one dies. During the non-breeding season, these birds live mainly along the coasts of Ecuador or Peru, spending most of their time gliding over the nutrient-rich waters off the coast of Peru, foraging for fish, squid and crustaceans. These waters are the site of a major upwelling of the thermohaline circulation – the system of deep-water ocean currents known as the global conveyor belt – which brings with it a mass of nutrients from the deep.

The albatross breeding grounds on the Galapagos Islands are protected by park rangers, and the island itself is classified as a World Heritage Site. Despite this, however, the species appears to be in decline. One of the most serious threats is the increasing use of long-line fishing techniques. Albatrosses and other similar seabirds are attracted to the bait, become hooked on the lines and drown. According to one study, roughly 8,000 albatross per year are killed by long-line fishing techniques. 17

What’s more, a disproportionate number of victims are male, creating a female-biased population, with disastrous breeding consequences.

This species is classified as critically endangered due to its single-island breeding range, and evidence of a substantial drop in numbers linked to fatalities from long-line fishing techniques in its main foraging grounds. But as global warming starts to impact more and more on fish, and therefore on the fishing industry, fishing techniques are likely to become more agressive, unless governments start listening to conservationists.

5. Amsterdam Albatross

Amsterdam Albatross in flight
Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis) Conservation status: endangered. Seen here in flight off Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean, revealing its typical chocolate brown plumage and white face. Photo: © Vincent Legendre (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Amsterdam Albatross, also known as the Amsterdam Island albatross, is a huge albatross which breeds only on Amsterdam Island, in the southern Indian Ocean. Originally thought to be a sub-species of the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans), it is now recognized as a separate species by both BirdLife International and the IOC (International Community of Ornithologists). 18

The giant Amsterdam Albatross measures up to 122 cm (4 ft) in length, weighs up to 8 kg (18 lb) and has a huge wingspan of up to 3.4m (11 ft). Like most albatrosses it feeds on squid, fish and crustaceans and forages widely. When not breeding it can travel up to 2,400 km (1,500 mi) across the Indian Ocean. Like the Waved Albatross, the Amsterdam species also benefits from a special stomach oil and a desalination gland.

During the breeding season, it nests on open, boggy ground, on the Plateau des Tourbieres – a small 3-square-mile area on the highest part of Amsterdam Island – at an altitude of between 500–600m (1,600–2,000 ft) above sea level. Chicks are cared for by both parents. They hatch after 80 days and takes about 33 weeks to fledge. Once it leaves the nest, scientists believe that the youngster stays at sea for about five years before returning to the colony.

The IUCN Red List classifies the Amsterdam albatross as critically endangered, due mainly to its dwindling population of around 25 breeding pairs. Threats to the species include local predators (all invasive species introduced by humans) including feral cats and rats. Diseases, like bird cholera are another concern. When foraging, the albatrosses are threatened by longline fishing practices, as well as the effects of ocean warming that can make prey harder to find. due to the isolated location of Amsterdam Island, and the small size of the albatross population, scientists have little data on the overall movement or feeding ecology of the species.

6. Tristan Albatross

Tristan Albatross flying
Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) Conservation status: critically endangered. Seen here off Tristan da Cunha. Photo: © Michael Clarke (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This species is classified as Critically Endangered due to its extremely small breeding range and a predicted population decline. In addition, it is one of the birds most threatened by climate change.

This large Albatross, which grows up to 1.1m (3.5 ft) in length and has a wingspan of 3.05 m (10.0 ft), has white plumage on its underside but brown on its outside. Except for its browner plumage, it is easily mistaken for the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight – one reason why it was only recognised as a full species in 1998.

The Tristan Albatross breeds biennially on Gough Island, a rugged, uninhabited dependency of Tristan da Cunha in the southern Atlantic, although some years a pair will breed on nearby Inaccessible Island. These albatrosses prefer to nest in rough wet ground, usually about 400 to 700 m (1,300–2,300 ft) above sea level, and only start breeding once they are about 10 years old. Gough Island is noted for its extreme isolation – 2,700 km (1,700 mi) west of Cape Town, and more than 3,200 km (2,000 mi) from the nearest point on the continent of South America.

During the non-breeding season, the Tristan Albatross travels to South American or South African waters and sometimes as far as Australia. According to satellite data, males tend to travel westwards towards South America, while females forage east towards Africa.

The Tristan Albatross is currently classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, due to its population decline – calculated at 96 percent over three generations (roughly 80 years). As of 2019, total numbers are estimated at 9,000 mature individuals. In addition, the fact they don’t breed until they are 10 years old leaves them extremely vulnerable to population collapse.

Other threats to their survival include mice (Mus musculus) – an invasive species that has multiplied since large invasive species (rats and feral cats) were culled 19 – and (as usual for albatrosses and other birds on the high seas) long-line fishing. Climate change will also add to the risk of extinction by making feeding more difficult, as fish change their movements in response to ocean warming.

7. New Zealand Storm Petrel

New Zealand Storm Petrel
New Zealand Storm Petrel (Fregetta maoriana) Conservation status: critically endangered. Photo: © Aviceda (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The New Zealand storm petrel had been considered extinct since 1850. Then, over the period 2003-2013, a series of sightings finally culminated in the discovery of a previously unknown colony of petrels.

The New Zealand storm petrel is a small pelagic seabird, with black/brown outer plumage, black underparts from the throat to the breast, and a white belly with black streaks. Active only during the hours of darkness at its breeding site, in order to avoid the attention of predators such as gulls and skuas, its movement on land is limited to a short hobble to its nesting burrow. Outside the breeding season, it remains at sea, which – together with its remote breeding sites – makes it difficult to monitor or observe.

As mentioned above, for more than a century this bird was believed to be extinct, but on 17 November 2003, around 20 New Zealand Storm Petrels were filmed off Great Barrier and Little Barrier Islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Despite strenuous efforts, it wasn’t until 2013 that a storm petrel breeding site was finally discovered. It was in a forested area in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park on Little Barrier Island, northeast of Auckland, North Island.

Ornithologists think that the storm petrel may be migratory due to its absence from the marine park from June to November, although where exactly it spends the winter is not known. There is also a complete absence of information concerning its diet ecology, but scientists assume it behaves in a similar way to other storm-petrels. If so, it feeds on plankton and crustaceans, as well as chum slicks, created out of fish scraps and oil.

According to the IUCN Red List, the New Zealand Storm Petrel is critically endangered and has a total population of no more than 50. 20 21

8. Giant Ibis

Giant Ibis in Flight
Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) Conservation status: critically endangered. Photo: Patty McGann/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea), is a wading bird of the Ibis family, Threskiornithidae. Once widely distributed throughout mainland south-east Asia, it is now found almost exclusively in northern Cambodia, where it is revered as the national bird, although a few birds survive in southern Laos, while one has been sighted in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam.

The Giant Ibis grows up to 1m (39 in) in length, and 1m (39 in) in height, and weigh up to about 4.5 kg (10 lb). Adult birds have dark grey/brown plumage with a bare, grey head and neck. It has dark bands across the back of its head and shoulders, while its bill is yellowish-brown. Juvenile birds have short black feathers on the back of the head down to the neck.

These waders roam in wetland areas always away from human habitation, as they are sensitive to disturbance from people. They prefer lowlands, especially swamps, paddy-fields, humid clearings, and pools within deciduous dipterocarp lowland forests. 22

They live alone, or in pairs or in small groups, feeding on invertebrates, crustaceans, frogs and other small amphibians, earthworms, and seeds. They nest in trees, in deciduous forests, often near grassland pools. Females lay two eggs at the start of the rainy season, around May. The eggs take about one month to hatch, and each hatchling takes another two months or more, to fly.

The Giant Ibis is categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, with a total population of between 290 and 500 birds – of which only 200 are believed to be mature individuals.

The main threats to its survival come from human activities, namely: the drainage of wetlands for crop cultivation, and deforestation to make way for rubber, teak and wood pulp plantations. The ibis is also hunted for meat and its eggs targeted by the Yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula) and the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The ibis also suffers from the decline in large grazing animals, like the wild water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and Asian Elephant (Elephas maximusas), as they use the pools dug by these megafauna as feeding sites.

Climate change is another growing problem. Local droughts appear to have further compromised the breeding habitat and behaviour of the species. What’s more they impact on the amphibian and other wetland creatures which make up a significant part of the Giant Ibis’s diet.

The Importance of Trees

Trees are of critical importance to all species of wildlife, especially birds, for whom they act as a source of food as well as a home or place of shelter. Trees perform a vital role in the carbon cycle, by absorbing CO2 from the air, during the process of photosynthesis. In addition they play an important part in the water cycle through the mechanism of transpiration, by which they release water vapor into the air. Trees within the Amazon Rainforest, for example, actually create their own weather system. Soil also plays a critical role, as it supplies nutrients needed by trees. For more, see: Why is Soil So Important to the Planet?

Ideally, we should stop cutting down trees – at least until our climate system is repaired – and start planting new ones. For more on this, see: Tree-Planting – Is It the Answer to Global Warming?

9. Puerto Rican Amazon (Parrot)

Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot
Puerto Rican Amazon (Parrot) (Amazona vittata) Conservation status: critically endangered. Photo: © Tom MacKenzie/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Puerto Rican Amazon (Parrot) – also called the “Red-fronted Amazon” – is the only surviving parrot native to the archipelago of Puerto Rico. It is mostly green in color with a red forehead and white circles around its eyes. It measures about 30 cm (12 in) in length and weighs about 320g (11.2 oz). 23 Other species closest to it, include the Cuban Amazon (Amazona leucocephala) and the Hispaniolan Amazon (Amazona ventralis).

The Puerto Rican Parrot reaches maturity between three and four years of age. Thereafter, it breeds annually, nesting in tree holes and hollows. After laying her eggs the female will remain in the nest to incubate them until hatching. The hatchlings are fed by both parents and will leave the nest 60 to 65 days after hatching. The parrot feeds on fruits, flowers, leaves, bark, and nectar, all obtained from the forest canopy.

The species is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List, due to a drastic decline in numbers. 24 Once widespread and abundant, the species declined drastically in the 19th and early 20th centuries with the removal of most of its native habitat; the Puerto Rican Amazon disappeared entirely from nearby Vieques and Mona Island. In 2019, the total population was estimated at 33-47 individuals in the wild.

The main threats to the Puerto Rican Amazon include: (a) The clearance of mature forests for agricultural development. (b) The capture of young birds for the pet industry. (c) Predatory attacks by the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus) and the invasive Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus). (d) Competition for resources (nesting holes) from honeybee pollinators (Apis mellifera) and the Hispaniolan Amazon. (e) Attacks on chicks and eggs by Indian mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) and black rats (Rattus rattus). (f) Extreme weather events, notably hurricanes, caused by global warming.

The Puerto Rican Amazon is surely one of the most beautiful birds threatened by climate change.

10. Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Spoon Billed Sandpiper,
Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) Conservation status: critically endangered. Photo: © JJ Harrison (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The adult sandpiper is 15 cm (6 ins) in length, with a reddish-brown head, neck and breast overlain with dark brown streaks. It has black upperparts with reddish fringes. Its underparts are white while its legs are black. But the most distinctive feature of this bird is its unique spatula-shaped bill, which it employs in various ways to forage for food. It can run and peck on wet tidal flats, or rapidly peck at the surface, a method known as ‘sewing’. It is thought that this turns the top layer of sand into a ‘soup’ in which prey are trapped.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper has an enormous range. It breeds in north-eastern Russia (June/July), along the Bering Sea coast of the Chukchi Peninsula and down the isthmus of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Breeding sites are typically lagoon spits or sand dune ridges with low vegetation, in which the hatchling can forage. In Russia, sandpipers feed on moss, as well as mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and spiders. They also eat small marine creatures like shrimp, miniature red crabs, as well as worms and a wide variety of amphipods.

After the breeding season, the sandpiper sets off on its 8,000 km (5,000 mi) journey along the coast through Russia, Japan, North and South Korea, China and Taiwan to reach Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar or Bangladesh, where it spends the winter. Very little is actually known about its winter habitat, but it is believed to favor coastal mudflats with shallow water or sandy dunes. The species has never been sighted more than 7km from the sea.

This bird is critically endangered, with a current population (2019) of 240-456. The main threats to its survival are habitat loss at its breeding grounds, loss of staging and stopover sanctuaries (for example, at at Saemangeum, South Korea) due to the drainage of coastal wetlands and mudflats for commercial development.

Higher temperatures caused by global warming are also adding to the disappearance of wetland environments. Data from remote sensors shows that up to 65 percent of sandpiper habitat in China, South Korea and North Korea has vanished due to reclamation. 25 Other threats include birds of prey, as well as human hunters, notably in Myanmar. The population decline of this species is so rapid it may well become extinct within 10–20 years.

References

  1. See also: “Predicting phenological shifts in a changing climate.” Katherine Scranton, Priyanga Amarasekare. PNAS 114 (50) 13212-13217; November 27, 2017. []
  2. American Museum of Natural History. []
  3. IUCN Red List []
  4. Effects of Climate Change on Birds.” []
  5. How will climate change affect bird migration?” BirdLife International. []
  6. No phenotypic plasticity in nest-site selection in response to extreme flooding events.” Liam D. Bailey, Bruno J. Ens, Christiaan Both, Dik Heg, Kees Oosterbeek and Martijn van de Pol. 08 May 2017. []
  7. See also: “Will the Effects of Sea-Level Rise Create Ecological Traps for Pacific Island Seabirds?” Michelle H. Reynolds, et al; PLoS One. 2015; 10(9): e0136773. Sept 23, 2015. []
  8. Katharine Keogan, Raul Ramos, et al; “Global phenological insensitivity to shifting ocean temperatures among seabirds.” Nature Climate Change, 2018; 8 (4): 313. []
  9. Martin Nyffeler et al. 2018. “Insectivorous birds consume an estimated 400–500 million tons of prey annually.” The Science of Nature 105: 47 []
  10. See also: “How Many Kinds of Birds Are There and Why Does It Matter?” George F. Barrowclough, Joel Cracraft, John Klicka, Robert M. Zink. PLOS One, November 23, 2016. []
  11. Candida Savage. “Seabird nutrients are assimilated by corals and enhance coral growth rates.” Scientific Reports (2019). []
  12. Are whooping cranes destined for extinction? Climate change imperils recruitment and population growth“. Butler, Matthew J.; Metzger, Kristine L.; Harris, Grant M. (1 April 2017). Ecology and Evolution. 7 (8): 2821–2834. []
  13. Will the Three Gorges Dam affect the underwater light climate of Vallisneria spiralis L. and food habitat of Siberian crane in Poyang Lake?” Wu, G., de Leeuw, J., Skidmore, A.K. et al. Hydrobiologia 623, 213–222 (2009). []
  14. Goss-Custard, J. D. (Ed.) (1996). The Oystercatcher: From individuals to populations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198546474 []
  15. Seasonal survival and migratory connectivity of the Eurasian Oystercatcher revealed by citizen science,” Andrew M. Allen, et al; The Auk 136(1), 1-17, (14 February 2019). []
  16. Foraging activity and submesoscale habitat use of waved albatrosses Phoebastria irrorata during chick-brooding period.” Awkerman, Jill & Fukuda, A & Higuchi, Hiroyoshi & Anderson, DJ. (2005). Marine Ecology-progress Series – MAR ECOL-PROGR SER. 291. 289-300. []
  17. Albatross mortality and associated bait loss in the Japanese longline fishery in the Southern Ocean.” Nigel Brothers. Biological Conservation, Volume 55, Issue 3, 1991, Pages 255-268. []
  18. Piecing together the global population puzzle of wandering albatrosses: genetic analysis of the Amsterdam albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis“. Derek Rains. Journal of Avian Biology. 42 (1): 69–79. []
  19. Can predation by invasive mice drive seabird extinctions?“. Wanless, Ross M. et al; (7 June 2007). Biology Letters. 3 (3): 241–244. []
  20. BirdLife International 2018. Fregetta maoriana. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018. []
  21. See also: “Future Directions in Conservation Research on Petrels and Shearwaters.” Airam Rodríguez, et al; Front. Mar. Sci., 18 March 2019. []
  22. Giant Ibis.” Edge of existence. []
  23. Parrot Encyclopedia. []
  24. BirdLife International 2015. Amazona vittata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015 []
  25. Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea.” Murray N. J. et al; (2014). Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12, 267–72. []
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