This is the fifth edition of Birdlife International’s State of the World’s Birds. The report summarises what birds tell us about the state of nature, the pressures upon it, and the solutions in place and needed. It focuses on birds because they are an excellent barometer for planetary health. Being widely distributed, relatively easy to survey, and responsive to environmental change, birds are useful biodiversity indicators, revealing wider trends in natural ecosystems.
2.9 billion individual birds are estimated to have been lost in North America since 1970 and 600 million have been lost in the EU since 1980
This report paints a deeply concerning picture. One in eight bird species is threatened with extinction, and the status of the world’s birds continues to deteriorate: species are moving ever faster towards extinction. For those not yet considered threatened, the majority are in decline and have much-depleted populations. For example, 2.9 billion individual birds are estimated to have been lost in North America since 1970, and 600 million have been lost in the EU (an area five times smaller) since 1980. Furthermore, many key sites supporting bird populations – Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – are in an unfavourable condition.
The pressures causing these losses of our natural heritage are well understood, and the vast majority are driven by human actions. The principal threats include: agricultural expansion and intensification (57% decline in grassland birds in Europe and a 74% decline in North America since 1980), unsustainable logging, invasive alien species, overexploitation and climate change. Additional threats include bycatch from fisheries(seabird populations have declined by 70% since 1970), expanding residential and commercial development, the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires, and poorly planned energy production. Most species are impacted by combinations of these threats, and some threats exacerbate others.
Fortunately, we know what actions are needed to reverse these losses and to help nature to recover. Most urgent is the conservation and effective management of the global network of IBAs, particularly through protected areas, or where appropriate through other effective area-based conservation measures. Conservation by Indigenous Peoples or local communities, either within or outside protected areas, is important for many sites. Beyond IBAs, it is essential to retain remaining intact habitats and restore degraded ecosystems, including to enhance connectivity.
Key threats to the world’s birds require mitigation, including preventing exploitation and killing of birds, managing invasive alien species, tackling fisheries bycatch, and minimising the negative impacts of energy infrastructure. Many threatened species also require targeted recovery actions such as captive breeding and release, translocation, supplementary feeding and other species-specific interventions.
A plant based food system could potentially eliminate the destructive industrial fishing industry, which would allow seabird populations to recover. It would also reduce agricultural land use by 75% allowing huge restoration of all species including birds on land ecosystems.