Extinct & Rare Birds

February 9, 2009 by  
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Have you ever used the expression ‘as dead as a Dodo’? The Dodo is one of the most well known extinct bird species. Sadly, the Dodo is not the only bird that has been classified as extinct.

When we refer to an extinct bird we are referring to a bird species that is no longer in existence. Recent studies have determined the main reasons for extinction are: loss of habitat due to development by humans; and harassment by humans or predation by exotic species. 42 species and 44 subspecies have become extinct within the last 280 years, most of which are island dwellers. The three extinct species below clearly illustrate the seriousness of this issue.

The Dodo was a large flightless bird living on the island of Mauritius. Dodos were killed by sailors, and their nests and young were destroyed by newly introduced cats, rats and pigs brought to the island by the settlers. Another extinct flightless bird was the Great Auk. Its population decreased due to hunting, with the last two being killed by collectors of rare specimens. The Passenger Pigeon was one of the most plentiful bird species in the world in the 19th century. The trees in which they nested were cut down to make way for farm land, decreasing their numbers. Additionally, a mass slaughter was conducted yearly. As Passenger Pigeons required large groups to breed and thrive in, this led to their extinction.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done for these and many other extinct species. However, we can make an effort to preserve those species which are considered to be rare and endangered. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) classifies 168 species as having a critical conservation status (50% probability of becoming extinct within 5 years) and 235 species as endangered (20% probability of extinction within 20 years). Many people consult rare bird alerts to find out the latest status on these bird species as well as when/where they have been spotted. Lists of rare birds are released and updated regularly by the IUCN.

Many programs have been set up to curb this trend towards extinction. Why not find out what rare birds are in your area and how you can help them survive.

Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) and its other Albatross counterparts are facing extinction. Scientists have recorded that close to a 100,000 birds a year are being killed by tuna and swordfish fishing vessels. If serious action is not taken urgently, this mighty seafarer might not be seen in the near future. The Wandering Albatross is one of the largest albatrosses, with a length of 1.35 meters and a spectacular wingspan of 3.5 meters. They are oceanic birds, and are known to remain at sea for years at a time, only returning to land for breeding. Wandering Albatrosses are a familiar sight in the Antarctic, Southern Oceans, in the subtropical waters and in the sub-Antarctic waters, and are the globetrotters of the sea bird species. A bird that was tagged by scientists was recorded to have covered a distance of 6,000 kilometers, in a mere twelve days.

They are predominantly white over their heads, necks, throats, breasts, bellies, and under their wings. The upper parts of their wings are black at the tips, and turning lighter and receding as they age. Younger birds that are still undergoing the stages to adult plumage are often confused with similar looking albatrosses. Their bills are generally a yellow to pink color, but it can vary. The albatross will glide over the surface of the water to feed, and collects fish, squid and other aquatic foods from the water. These magnificent birds are known to follow fishing trawlers to collect scraps that are thrown overboard, and  this is often the reason why they get caught up in the nets.

Breeding season is in November for the Wandering Albatrosses, and only takes place every second year. They mate for life, and will migrate to sub-Antarctic islands to nest. Nests are constructed on ridges close to the ocean, and are built from mud, sticks and other pieces of vegetation. The female will only lay one egg and the incubation period is approximately eight weeks. After hatching, the chicks will remain in the nest for a period of nine months, while it develops. While the chicks are still very young, parents will alternate to search for food, to ensure that one parent is at the nest at all times. As the chick ages, both parents will start hunting for food, returning to feed their chick. The chick is only fully developed after twelve months and weighs approximately a staggering twelve kilograms when it fledges the nest. In ideal conditions Wandering Albatrosses can live to the ripe old age of about 80.

Slender-billed Curlews Extinct?

December 8, 2008 by  
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Sometimes the daily habits of a certain bird species may be so obscure that ornithologists are not even sure how many of them exist. That certainly seems to be the case with the Slender-billed Curlew as it seems there is some doubt as to whether or not this bird is still surviving or has become completely extinct.

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Britain’s Bitterns Respond Positively to Conservation Efforts

September 1, 2008 by  
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Considered to be on the brink of extinction in Britain just over a decade ago, the bittern has made a remarkable come-back, with the species enjoying its best recorded nesting season in the past 130 years. The loud “booming” mating call of the bittern assisted conservationists in tracking the birds, resulting in a count of 75 males, an astonishing 47 percent increase on last year’s numbers and nearly seven times as many as the 11 which were counted in 1997.

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One in Eight Birds in Danger of Extinction

May 21, 2008 by  
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According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one in eight bird species is currently facing extinction. The most recent update of the Red List of threatened bird species listed 190 bird species as ‘critically endangered’. Eight of the birds on this list were added this year and a further sixteen species have been given a higher threat status. In sharp contrast, only two species were found to have improved prospects of survival. Clearly things are spiraling out of control.

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