Have you ever stopped and listened to the calls of birds in your area or a forest? Pest Photos? Or marveled as they swooped and dived in flight? Birds are one of the wonders of our world, from the smallest hummingbird to the largest living bird, the ostrich, yet hundreds of species are threatened with extinction, with many already extinct. The World’s Rarest Birds project has joined with Birdlife International in an effort to highlight the plight of the most threatened of these and one of their first steps was a photo competition to find images of the rarest of all in three categories, which will be published in a book next year. We are lucky to have all 13 winning photos to share with you in the meantime.
The beautiful crested ibis has white plumage with red or pink skin that shines through. Once plentiful throughout Asia, now only a few individuals are left, with estimates of between 50 and 250 living in the world. Listed as endangered, there is some good news as the Chinese and Japanese governments are taking measures to conserve and protect this special bird. Through protected areas and captive breeding programs, the population is slowly increasing overall. There is a small enclave of wild crested ibis in Shanxi province in China, while Japan has reintroduced 10 birds to the wild with a goal of 60 by 2015.
The critically endangered Kakapo, one of the world’s few flightless birds and a member of the parrot family, is the heaviest parrot, is one of the longest living, and is nocturnal and herbivorous. As of 2010 there were only 124 individuals known, so few that each one of them has been given a name and a radio transmitter.
The Kakapo Recovery Plan has done herculean work to preserve and increase the population. All known kakapos were relocated to two islands where stoats and feral cats had been removed, Codfish and Anchor Island. Both islands will hold 100 kakapos each and work is ongoing to find a suitable island where one day kakapos will be able to live free from human management such as the sanctuaries. Two possibilities have been identified by the department of conservation and it seems some work is already being done to prepare them. Out of all the birds on the list, the kakapo has a good chance because the government is so intimately involved in trying to protect the species.
The Red Crowned Crane is named for a patch of skin on its otherwise white head and body that is red and brightens when it is excited or angry. There are only 1700 of these endangered birds left in the wild, much of its decline being due to habitat loss, such as wetlands drying up in Asia and fires in its breeding areas in Siberia. They are legally protected now in Russia, China and Japan and more work is being done to protect and conserve its habitat.
Classified as endangered these birds are a male and female Scaly-sided Merganser. Approximately 2,500 of these beautiful ducks are left in the wild, most of them around the area where the borders of Russia, China and North Korea meet. They are under threat due to habitat loss – the forests by rivers that they nest and forage in – pollution and fishing nets. Birdlife International is following some promising conservation efforts but they do not live in large groups so accurate counts are difficult. An interesting note is that they forage during the day but like many people in the world, noon time is for resting, preening and socializing.
The Palila is a critically endangered finch billed species of the Hawaiian Honeycreeper with approximately 1,500 left in the wild. It is highly dependent on the maname tree for food, eating almost exclusively from the highly toxic immature seeds when available, somehow having a mechanism to render them neutral. They also eat the leaves, flowers and buds of the species. Cydlia caterpillars also make up a good portion of the diet, especially for nestlings whom it seems can’t handle the poison when young. The caterpillars have eaten it but have rendered it non toxic so they themselves are not poisonous. The Palila’s habitat is exclusively on the upper slopes of Mount Kaua where legal challenges have started to remove the goats and sheep that are problematic to the maname trees and shrubs.
A unique legal note, the Palila is the first animal to have a case in front of the 9th circuit Palila v. Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources 852 F.2d 1106 (U.S. 1988) which opened the door to more agencies like the EPA getting standing in environmental and conservation cases.
Conservation authorities believe there are less than 250 individuals of this magnificent bird surviving. Living in Brazil for the most part, there are a tiny number in Argentina and it has been extirpated from Paraguay. Unfortunately all trends of the merganser population are downwards, following work on hydroelectric dams, silting and pollution of rivers from agricultural activities, as well as mining, all leading to deforestation. Hopefully groups like Birdlife International and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust will be able to help increase and stabilize the population in the future.
The Honduran Emerald hummingbird is a flitting jewel in the dry forest, darting between bromeliad flowers, acacias and cacti while snapping up small insects midair. It is the only bird exclusive to Honduras and critically endangered, with fewer than 1,000 left due to habitat destruction. One thing it does have now is its own Emerald Hummingbird Reserve created 6 years ago with the help of the Nature Conservancy.
The Forest Owlet lives in the forests of central India and was considered extinct from 1884 to 1997 when it was rediscovered. Critically endangered, experts believe there are less than 250 individuals, some in areas already protected as park sanctuaries. Most of their prey are lizards with rodents and small birds making up the rest. They perch in trees and wait until they see their prey before pouncing. Birdlife International and others are working hard to increase their population numbers.
Critically endangered Orange-bellied parrots are endemic to Australia, specifically Tasmania and the southern mainland. With fewer than 250 and some estimates as low as 50 wild parrots left, the government decided to capture 20% of the remaining wild parrots for their existing captive breeding program, to increase the genetic diversity. Work is ongoing to reestablish salt marshes and protect what is left of its habitat. Hopefully the captive breeding program will allow reintroduction to the wild as a solid alternative and one that will pay off in the long run.