The dying of the high-flyers: Europe's birds are in bad shape

In Europe, one in five bird species is threatened or potentially endangered, and the populations of three bird species have declined in recent decades. This emerges from the European Red List of Birds 2021, which BirdLife International recently published.

Waterfowl hardest hit

Sea birds, water birds, waders and birds of prey are therefore the most threatened and fastest declining groups of birds in Europe; marine habitats, arable land, wetlands and meadows are the habitats with the most threatened or declining species. The majority of larks, bunting and shrike are in decline; other important groups with significant declines are ducks and waders.

Intensive agriculture and pollution as the cause

According to the Red List, a total of 71 bird species – this corresponds to 13 percent – are endangered in Europe and 35 (six percent) are potentially endangered. Five species of birds have become extinct regionally: the Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus), steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis), great coot (Fulica cristata), steppe lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) and willow bunting (Emberiza aureola). Major causes of population decline include large-scale land use changes, intensive agricultural practices, overexploitation of marine resources, inland water pollution, and infrastructure development.

Black-necked grebe threatened with extinction in Austria

The status of the turtledove remains at risk as intensive farming practices wipe out their breeding grounds and heavy pesticide use results in a significant decrease in food availability. In Austria the population has fallen by two thirds over the past 20 years. The status of the black-necked grebe has changed from non-endangered to endangered, most likely due to water pollution from agricultural activities and urban sewage. In Austria this species is threatened with extinction.

Red kite on the upswing

But there is also good news: the improved status of the red kite and the Azores bullfinch shows, for example, that targeted approaches to species recovery can work. “Loss of habitat and a multitude of anthropogenic causes lead to this drastic loss, which should give humanity food for thought,” said Gábor Wichmann, Managing Director of BirdLife Austria.

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