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Australia’s rarest predatory bird is facing extinction

A recent study led by the University of Queensland has found that Australia’s rarest bird of prey – the red goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus) – is currently facing extinction, with the Cape York Peninsula the only region in Queensland known to support breeding populations at the moment. According to the experts, this shocking discovery requires urgent governmental action to amend this bird’s national conservation status from “vulnerable” to “endangered,” so it can be afforded greater conservation priority.

“Over four decades the red goshawk has lost a third of its historical range, which is the area that’s it’s previously been known to occupy,” said study lead author Christopher MacColl, a doctoral student in Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queensland. “It’s barely hanging on in another 30 percent of regions it has previously been known to inhabit.”

With its striking reddish-brown plumage, deeply fingered wing tips, heavy yellow legs, and enormous talons, this unique predator has long captivated bird watchers. By analyzing four decades of sightings from citizen scientists, MacColl and his colleagues unfortunately discovered highly concerning population trends, with the species now extinct in New South Wales and the southern half of Queensland.

“There has been a noticeable decline in North Queensland too, leaving Cape York Peninsula as the last place in the state still known to support breeding populations,” MacColl said. “The Top End, Tiwi Islands, and Kimberley are the red goshawk’s last remaining stronghold, making northern Australia critical to its ongoing survival.”

Although the threats driving this species’ decline require further investigation, the scientists believe that habitat loss and degradation most likely played a decisive role. “An increase in agricultural, mining, and gas projects across northern Australia pose a real risk to a species like this, given what we’ve observed throughout its eastern range,” explained study senior author James Watson, a professor of Conservation Science at Queensland.

In order to stop this dramatic decline in red goshawk populations, governments and communities should be more proactive in conserving remaining habitats.

“Northern Australia supports the largest intact tropical savanna ecosystem in the world and hosts an abundance of biodiversity. Conservation efforts aimed at securing an emblematic species like the red goshawk in these areas will benefit many other species given the species is a top-predator,” Watson concluded.

The study is published in the journal Emu – Austral Ornithology.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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