Red List 2021: worrying declines in iconic bird species

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Another Asian bird species that was moved to a higher threat category this year is the Lesser Florican – the small bustard with the distinctively twisted mustaches that lives in the low-lying grasslands of western and central India. Worryingly, this year it was listed from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered”, due to the widespread destruction of its grassland. Large tracts of natural grassland are being converted to agricultural land, and the remaining patches are being degraded by overgrazing, invasive vegetation, and disruption of rainfall patterns due to climate change. These risks are exacerbated by the threat of stray dogs, hunting and egg-collecting. Even in flight, the species is not safe – researchers believe collisions with infrastructure such as roads and power lines cause significant deaths.

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife Partner in India) and other local conservation organizations are working with farmers in a recent area around Ajmer in Rajasthan where the species persists, to raise awareness and stimulate the protection of the Lesser Florican. The landscape in Ajmer is now farmland so not ideal for the species, but the BNHS project has managed to remove invasive trees from nearby former grasslands and create a community reserve for low-density organic farming.

“Of all the bird conservation crises in India, these are the most pressing and the most neglected,” says Nigel Yug of BirdLife, who also serves as co-chair of the IUCN Bustard Specialist Group. “We only have a few years to save this amazing species, and the BNHS needs all the support it can get to expand its brave efforts.”

Minor fluorescent is not the only species affected by climate change in this year’s Red List update. According to recent reports, even heat-loving Maliu is expected to see a sharp decline in nesting success as temperatures and sea levels rise. Furthermore, this year Fernandina’s Flicker, a woodpecker found only in Cuba, has been moved from vulnerable to endangered as a direct result of climate chaos. These species love to nest in hollows within old, hollow palm trees – however, increasingly frequent hurricanes are destroying these trees at an unprecedented rate, without allowing time for new palms to grow and age.

Another species listed from vulnerable to endangered is the Maccoa Duck, found in eastern and southern Africa. This is due to pollution, entanglement in fishing nets and drainage of wetlands for agriculture.

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