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Wetland aliens cause bird extinction


26 May 2010


Climate & Environment
Health & Consumers
Sustainable Dev.

Brussels, 26 May 2010 - BirdLife International [1] has today announced, in the 2010 IUCN Red List update for birds [2], the extinction of Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus. Restricted to a tiny area of east Madagascar, this species declined rapidly after carnivorous fish were introduced to the lakes in which it lived. This, along with the use of nylon gill-nets by fisherman which caught and drowned birds, has driven this species into the abyss.

“No hope now remains for this species. It is another example of how human actions can have unforeseen consequences”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “Invasive alien species have caused extinctions around the globe and remain one of the major threats to birds and other biodiversity.”

Another wetland species suffering from the impacts of introduced aliens is Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai from Cuba. It has been uplisted to Critically Endangered and is under threat from introduced mongooses and exotic catfish. An extremely secretive marsh-dwelling species, the only nest ever found of this species was described by James Bond, a Caribbean ornithologist and the source for Ian Fleming’s famous spy’s name.

And it’s not just aliens. Wetlands the world over, and the species found in them, are under increasing pressures.

In Asia and Australia, numbers of once common wader species such as Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis are dropping rapidly as a result of drainage and pollution of coastal wetlands. The destruction of inter-tidal mudflats at Saemangeum in South Korea, an important migratory stop-over site, correlated to a 20% decline in the world population of Great Knot. Huge flocks of these birds once visited northern Australia, but annual monitoring by scientists have found corresponding declines in numbers.

“Wetlands are fragile environments, easily disturbed or polluted, but essential not only for birds and other biodiversity but also for millions of people around the world as a source of water and food”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator.

Turning the tide

However, the Red List update shows that we now know, more than ever, that conservation works. Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered as a result of conservation work to restore natural vegetation on its island home. SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) have worked together with others to turn around the fortunes of this species in what is a model for other projects.

“This is a clear example of conservation action succeeding in turning the tide for a highly threatened species”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Officer. “Where there is commitment and financing we can save species. We have the knowledge and will, but there needs to be better funding globally to address the loss of species.”

In Colombia, Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis has also been the beneficiary of conservation. Protection of its nest sites and education programmes in local communities telling people about its uniqueness has lead to a steady increase in numbers, resulting in downlisting to Endangered.

“These successes show what is possible, and they point the way forward to what needs to be done by the global community”, said Dr Butchart. “2010 is the International Year of biodiversity; world leaders failed to stem the decline of biodiversity. We cannot fail again.”


For more information, please contact:

Martin Fowlie, Communications Officer at BirdLife International –

+44 (0)1223 279813


Alessia Pautasso, Communication & Media Officer at BirdLife International –

+32 (0) 2 541 07 81

Mobile: +32 494 542844


Notes for the editor

[1] BirdLife International is a global Partnership of nature conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries and territories. BirdLife is the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the problems affecting them, and is working on a wide range of environmental issues. BirdLife has 42 Partners in Europe, and is represented in all 27 Member States.

For more information about the work of the BirdLife European Division:

[2] BirdLife is the Red List Authority for birds for the IUCN Red List. Categories include: Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild), Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild), Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild), Near Threatened (close to qualifying for Vulnerable) and Least Concern (species not qualifying for the other categories, including widespread and abundant species). Species are assigned to categories using criteria with quantitative thresholds for population size, population trend, range size and other parameters. For more information visit:

Total number of species recognised by BirdLife is 10,027. Number of species by category as follows: Extinct 132; Extinct in Wild 4; Critically Endangered 190; Endangered 372; Vulnerable 678; Near Threatened 838; Least Concern 7751; Data Deficient 62.

To find out more about the 10 key actions needed to prevent further bird extinctions that BirdLife has indentified. Visit

For more species, regional and country information about the IUCN Red List visit the BirdLife Data Zone

To find out more about the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme visit

In total, three species have been uplisted to Critically Endangered (Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai, White-bellied Cinclodes Cinclodes palliates, Black-winged Starling Sturnus melanopterus) and three have been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered (Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremita, Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis, Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina), one has been reclassified from Critically Endangered to Not Recognised (Entre Rios Seedeater Sporophila zelichi) and one has been uplisted from Critically Endangered to Extinct (Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus).

Alaotra Grebe was known only from Madagascar where it was known chiefly from Lake Alaotra. The species was probably incapable of prolonged flight, so in all likelihood never occurred very far from Lake Alaotra. There have been no direct observations since 12 were seen at Lake Alaotra in December 1982, and two in September 1985. Individuals with some characters of the species (probably hybrids with Little Grebe, or their descendents) were also seen on Lake Alaotra in 1986 and 1988, but by 1999 none were left. The most recent surveys in the region in 2009 by Conservation International and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust failed to find any grebes. It is now highly unlikely that any Alaotra Grebes survive.

Much of the work leading to the downlisting of Azores Bullfinch was undertaken between 2003 and 2008 in the framework of an EU-funded LIFE project, coordinated by SPEA in partnership with the Regional Secretary of Environment and Sea (SRAM), the Regional Direction of Forest Resources (DRFF), the Azores University‘s Conservation and Environmental Protection Centre (CCPA), the Municipality of Nordeste and the RSPB. In 2008, support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Birdwatch magazine (through the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme) allowed the species's global distribution to be mapped for the first time.

Other regional highlights

Wattled Curassow Crax globulosa has been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. To find out more click here

White-bellied Cinclodes Cinclodes palliatus has been uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered. To find out more click here


Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis is newly recognised and has been classified as Endangered. To find out more click here

Kofiau Paradise-kingfisher Tanysiptera ellioti has been uplisted from Data Deficient to Endangered. To find out more click here

Great Slaty Woodpecker Mulleripicus pulverulentus has been uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable. To find out more click here

Rufous-backed Bunting Emberiza jankowskii has been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. To find out more click here

Black Crowned-crane Balearica pavonina has been uplisted from Near Threatened to Vulnerable. To find out more click here

Ludwig’s Bustard Neotis ludwigii has been uplisted from Least Concern to Endangered. To find out more click here


Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhura murina has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. To find out more click here

Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi has been uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable. To find out more click here


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