Once common and abundant, the yellow-breasted bunting could now be following the path of the passenger pigeon, which was the most abundant bird in North America (and possibly the world) before it was hunted to extinction.
Since 1980, the population of yellow-breasted buntings has declined by 90 per cent and it is now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Large-scale hunting is one of the main factors causing the decline of this bird, even though it is officially banned.
In China, the bunting is known was ‘the rice bird’, and an estimated one million buntings were consumed in 2001 in China’s Guangdong province.
The yellow-breasted bunting is included in a new report from BirdLife International, which shows that many recognisable birds are threatened with extinction – such as the grey parrot, European turtle dove, black-legged kittiwake, snowy owl and Atlantic puffin, due to human-driven factors.
Although widespread, the snowy owl is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List © Francais Cadien
The State of the World’s Birds 2018 describes how climate change, agricultural expansion and intensification, illegal hunting, and overfishing are all contributing to the decreasing populations of birds worldwide.
“The threats driving the avian extinction crisis are many and varied, but invariably of humanity’s making,” says Tris Allinson, senior global science officer at BirdLife International.
“The data are unequivocal. We are undergoing a steady and continuing deterioration in the status of the world’s birds, [including] once widespread and abundant species that only a few decades ago were a familiar sight across great swathes of the planet.”
The grey parrot is listed as Endangered, as wild birds are caught for the pet trade © Ken Schwarz
Of the 11,000 bird species, at least 40 per cent are in decline and one in eight species is globally threatened with extinction.
The report also includes a number of success stories – at least 25 species threatened with extinction have been conserved, such as the Seychelles white-eye, the echo parakeet and the Azores bullfinch.
“Although the report provides a sobering update on the state of birds and biodiversity and of the challenges ahead, it also clearly demonstrates that solutions do exist and that significant, lasting success can be achieved,” says Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International.
The Atlantic puffin faces a number of threats, including climate change, marine pollution and invasive predators © Richard Bartz