Roughly one in eight of the world’s 10,000 bird species is facing extinction. To be precise, 727 are classified as “Vulnerable”, 389 “Endangered” and 197 “Critically Endangered”. See here. Scientists estimate that the natural extinction rate for birds is one species per 100 years. In the last 30 years alone we have lost 21.
Threatened birds are spread throughout the world. China is home to 87, of which 62 are classified “Vulnerable”, 16 “Endangered” and 9 “Critically Endangered”.
Since arriving in Beijing in August 2010, I have been fortunate to see 27 of China’s threatened birds, including 4 “Critically Endangered” - Baer’s Pochard, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Siberian Crane and Chinese Crested Tern. Although two of the “Critically Endangered” species were seen on dedicated trips to specific locations where they are almost guaranteed, I have been fortunate enough to find two myself in Beijing – Baer’s Pochard and Siberian Crane.
Watching a Baer’s Pochard on a small reservoir in Beijing, I couldn’t help but think about the threats that this bird faced on its lonely journey north – whether it would find a mate and, given the long-term drought in northeast China, whether it would find a suitable breeding site. And if it did, would breeding be successful? It seemed to me a perilous situation for this bird. At the same time I felt inspired to do what I could to help halt the slide towards extinction of this species and others like it. I am constantly surprised and encouraged by examples of the resilience of nature, if given a chance. The contributions of Chinese ornithologists to save species such as the Crested Ibis, Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Chinese Crested Tern are all good examples of dedicated efforts giving these species a fighting chance. I am hopeful that the Baer’s Pochard, and others like it, can be saved with a combination of modest resources, targeted action and dedicated people on the ground.
After exploring how best I could make a difference, I decided that the first step would be to support the Preventing Extinctions Programme by becoming a Species Champion. BirdLife International is the largest international partnership of conservation organisations and is the authority for birds on the IUCN Red List. It is therefore well placed to initiate and coordinate action plans, in direct collaboration with local organisations, to help save the most threatened species. You can see examples of their ongoing work here.
Of course, I have a particular interest in China’s birds and I will soon be launching an appeal for one species in particular that BirdLife needs urgent help to save… watch this space!