There are roughly 18,000 species of birds in the world, many of which are at risk of extinction. A University of Washington study nearly doubles the previous estimates of the number of aves. Of those bird species, estimates predict that roughly 12% are critically endangered, the worst classification before “extinct in the wild.” Let’s take a look at 12 endangered birds most at risk of extinction.
The kakapo, also known as the owl parrot (S. habroptilus), is a critically endangered bird endemic to New Zealand. Like many oceanic island-dwelling birds, the kakapo is flightless. Conservation efforts began in New Zealand over 125 years ago. Those efforts were only somewhat successful. Sadly, only 142 individuals are left in the wild as of 2019. Fortunately, the 2019 breeding season was extremely successful and 34 chicks are still alive! Efforts to restore their population have been successful, but the species still teeters on the brink of extinction.
The Mariana fruit dove is an endangered (P. roseicapilla) bird native to Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. A host of threats has caused the native population of P. roseicapilla to shrink in recent years. Habitat loss and invasive species are the two largest threats to the rehabilitation of the fruit dove. There is a particularly strong urge to save the fruit dove as it is the official bird of the Northern Marianas Islands.
Residing in New Zealand, the kiwis (members of genus Apteryx) are a group of flightless birds that are endangered and vulnerable. The conservation efforts of one species, the little spotted kiwi (A. owenii), are very interesting. At its low point, the species only had five individuals living. Thanks in part to the work of the New Zealand government, there are now around 1,600 individuals in the wild. Scientists on the island use a unique method to save the kiwis. They replace a kiwi’s eggs with artificial 3D printed eggs and safely incubate the eggs in a lab. The eggs are returned to the mother when they are ready to hatch.
Not every species of kiwi is doing well, though. The rowi (A. rowi) is considered ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their current population is around 400 individuals. Unfortunately, the species is under constant threat due to deforestation and climate change.
The hooded grebe (P. gallardoi) is a bird native to Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. The main threat to P. gallardoi is predation by the American mink (N. vison). During the first year of the mink’s introduction, the population of the hooded grebe declined by half. Due to this decrease, the hooded grebe earned a spot on the IUCN critically endangered list.
Most people will recognize the snowy owl (B. scandiacus) from the Harry Potter movie series. The snowy owl is currently considered ‘vulnerable.’ What’s worse, its population numbers are decreasing rapidly. These birds are particularly at risk due to their habitat. They primarily live north of the 60° latitude line. Due to melting polar ice caps, the prey that snowy owls feed on, like mice, are also disappearing. Combined with habitat loss, these factors have contributed greatly to the 85% decline in their population since 2003.
The great curassow (C. rubra) is a large bird known for its odd, lingering whistle-call. It is a vulnerable bird native to the rainforests of Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador. Deforestation due to intense logging activity is the root cause of a decline in its population since the late 1980s. It is now listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN.
Another bird that may be familiar is the California condor (G. californianus). Unfortunately, they are critically endangered. The bird actually went extinct in the wild in 1987. During the preceding years, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) undertook an ambitious project to capture every condor left in the wild. At the time, that number was only 26.
Since then, the total population has risen to over 400, and the DOI has reintroduced Condors to Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. These numbers can be deceiving, though. There are currently only 44 mature individuals in the wild, and even small losses of habitat threaten to dwindle this population further.
The African grey parrot is a majestic and endangered bird. With a wingspan of 46–52 cm (18–20 in), it is an average size for members of the order Psittaciformes. In the last 20-25 years, the wild population has declined by 95-99%. Unlike other species on this list, the decline is not primarily due to habitat loss. Instead, poachers prize the grey parrot for its intelligence and beautiful coloration. A Cornell University study estimates that 2.1 to 2.5 million illegal birds are involved in parrot trade. When the number of legally traded birds is taken into account, the population is declining at an unsustainable level.
The reclusive northern bald ibis (G. eremita) lives along the west coast of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula and along the coast of Northern Africa. Studies estimate there are less than 500 birds left in the wild. Worse, as few as 10 may be left if their historic range of Syria. It is considered to be the rarest bird in the Middle East. Over the last several decades, hunting, loss of habitat, and trade have contributed to its current status as endangered.
These birds are distinct because of their beautiful coloration. V. ultramarina are endemic to the Marquesas Islands, an archipelago about 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) off the west coast of Mexico. The bird used to inhabit almost every island within the archipelago, but now can only be found on the island of Ua Huka. The introduction of the black rat to the local ecosystem devastated the population and rendered the lorikeet critically endangered.
At first glance, the listed number of 10,000 wild White-rumped Vultures (G. bengalensis) may appear high. But in contrast, the global population of G. bengalensis was several million strong in 1980. At that time, it was one of the most common birds of prey in the world. The main cause of this decline is Diclofenac poisoning. Diclofenac is a chemical compound used to treat diseases such as gout. In 2019 the bird is still considered critically endangered.
The regent honeyeater (A. phrygia) gets its name due to one of its preferred food sources: nectar of eucalyptus trees. The bird is native to SE Australia. Unfortunately, it has been in decline since the late 20th century. Habitat loss due to the combined effects of human activity and global warming have contributed to their critically endangered status.
These and the many thousands of other bird species are critical to biodiversity on planet earth. Consider supporting organizations that work to fight the constant threats of habitat destruction and global warming today!