News

Red List of Threatened Birds Updated

Red List of Threatened Birds Updated | Thursday, 8 December 2022

  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

Climate change is taking its toll on a range of Australian endemic species

Established in 1964, the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species* is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animals, fungi and plants. It is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity.

As the official Red List Authority for birds, BirdLife International’s Red List team regularly reassesses the conservation status of the world’s 11,000 species of birds, incorporating the latest data to ensure they are categorised correctly and identifying threatened species in greatest need of conservation action.

The latest update to the Red List underlines that climate change can no longer be thought of as a problem for the future, with its impacts already having a devastating effect on many species. This is particularly reflected in this year’s updates for a number of Australian species which have experienced numerous droughts, heat waves and fires over the last decade.

BirdLife Australia’s Bird Conservation Strategy is the blueprint to saving Australia’s birds.

In response to warming climates, mountain species are often forced to move to ever-higher elevations to seek the cooler temperatures to which they are adapted. However, there is naturally a limit to how high species can go, and for several birds that are endemic to the montane tropical rainforests of north-eastern Australia, this limit is seemingly being reached. With nowhere else to go, climate change is acting as an ‘escalator to extinction’ and has seen the conservation status of multiple species deteriorate. Here are a few examples:

The Fernwren, for example, has shockingly been uplisted by not one but three categories, from Least Concern to Endangered in one fell swoop, as its population has declined by over 50 per cent over the last 15 years. Climate change is the only known threat to the species, and declines have been particularly severe for populations that occur in lower elevations, which are gradually forced to inhabit higher and higher altitudes as temperatures continue to warm. With temperatures set to keep rising, it is likely that populations found at higher elevations in Queensland’s tropical forests will soon follow suit.

While Fernwren is perhaps the most dramatic example of this ‘escalator to extinction’, several other Australian endemics have also been affected, reflected by the deteriorating conservation status of species such as Bower’s Shrike-thrush, Mountain Thornbill and Victoria’s Riflebird, all of which had their conservation status on the Red List uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable.

Along with warming temperatures, the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires is also taking its toll on Australian birds. The devastating ‘Black Summer’ bushfires of 2019–20, which swept across 19 million hectares of the country with exceptional intensity, had a dreadful impact. Thought to have impacted up to 180 million individual birds, these fires alone have contributed to 10 species being moved to higher extinction risk categories. Roughly 30 per cent of the global population of the Pilotbird is thought to have been lost, as well as 21 per cent of Gang-gang Cockatoos — which was already in decline due to logging of its native habitat. Both of these species are now considered Vulnerable.

Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo, endemic to forests in south-western Australia, is also in trouble. A combination of bushfires and logging have left the old trees it relies on for nesting in short supply. This has contributed to a staggering 90 per cent population decline over the last few decades, and, accordingly, it has been uplisted to Critically Endangered.

BirdLife Australia’s bold new Bird Conservation Strategy is the blueprint to saving Australia’s birds. Our mission is guided by strong, ambitious targets — to stop the extinction of birds and improve the status of 30 per cent of our threatened birds by 2032, and halt the overall decline of bird populations by 2050.

*It should be noted that the conservation status of a species on the IUCN Red List does not necessarily coincide with that species’ status on the Australian Government’s EPBC List of Threatened Species.