Six Bird Species Added to Endangered List
Six species of birds from Mexico, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific will be listed as endangered under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service final rule published in today’s Federal Register.
The birds include the black stilt of New Zealand, the caerulean paradise-flycatcher on Sangihe Island in Indonesia, the giant ibis of Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam, and possibly Fiji; Gurney’s pitta of Myanmar and Thailand, the long-legged thicketbird of Viti Levu Island in Fiji, and the Socorro mockingbird of Socorro Island in Mexico. Most of these birds have wild populations that are so small that scientists are concerned about the loss of genetic variation among the remaining birds, which can decrease their ability to survive disease or other catastrophes.
Granting the birds protection under the domestic Endangered Species Act means import or export of any of the species, or their parts, as well as sale in interstate or foreign commerce, would be prohibited. The only exception to the prohibitions would be for scientific purposes or to aid in efforts to enhance the propagation or survival of the species.
“These birds have suffered from a variety of threats, from habitat fragmentation to predation and competition from invasive species, to unregulated hunting and trafficking,” said Service Director H. Dale Hall. “We hope this designation will help garner added international support for conservation efforts in the countries where these species live.”
The black stilt, known only in New Zealand, is a wading bird up to 16 inches tall, with long red legs, a slender bill and black plumage. In the 1950s, its population was estimated between 500 and 1000 birds; the current wild population includes only 87 adults, with just 17 breeding pairs. New Zealand has managed the species since 1981. Recovery plans have focused on increasing the species’ low breeding success, which is largely attributed to human-induced habitat alteration, including the introduction of non-native predators.
The caerulean paradise-flycatcher was believed extinct until 19 individuals were observed between 1998 and 1999 in a small part of a forest on Sangihe Island in Indonesia. Colored a bright caerulean blue (which can be likened to a deep blue sky) and growing up to 5 inches tall, this bird prefers primary rainforest habitat and has an estimated population of 19 to 135 birds. The island on which it lives has been nearly deforested for timber, pulp, or conversion to agriculture. Additional risks to the species include inadequate protection, unregulated hunting and risks associated with small populations.
True to its name, the giant ibis stands up to three feet tall. Once found in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam, the species was believed extinct in all but Cambodia. Recent rediscoveries confirm its existence in small numbers in all but Thailand, with an estimated population of just 100 pairs of birds. Deforestation, dam construction, and other forms of habitat degradation, as well as indiscriminate hunting, are affecting the continued existence of this species.
The 8-inch, blue and turquoise Gurney’s pitta is a terrestrial bird that hops around the floor of lowland, semi-evergreen secondary rainforest, consuming insects, snails and earthworms. Once known throughout the Thai-Malay peninsula (of Thailand and Myanmar), the bird had not been seen in the wild for more than 30 years when it was rediscovered in 1986 – ironically, with the help of a wildlife smuggler. Trapped in the wild for sale in the pet trade, Gurney’s pitta was first placed in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1987 and transferred in 1990 to CITES Appendix I because the population was no longer viable and could not sustain commercial trade. Known only from a single, declining population in Thailand since 1986, the species was rediscovered in 2003 in Myanmar; the current population may stand a t just 180 birds. Gurney’s pitta suffers from habitat loss, capture for the pet bird trade, inadequate protection and possibly predation.
The long-legged thicketbird, of Viti Levu Island in Fiji, is just 6 inches tall, with long blue legs, a short black bill, and a long tail. Described as a reclusive island endemic, it was believed extinct after an absence of sightings since 1894. But the bird was rediscovered in 2003, when 12 pairs were located in the remote Wabu Forest Reserve. Threats to the species are not well known, but include loss of habitat and possible predation by the mongoose, an introduced predator.
The Socorro mockingbird is found only on Socorro Island in the Rivillagigedo archipelago in Mexico. Mostly brown with white underparts, this bird stands just 10 inches tall. In 1925 it was considered to be the most abundant land-based bird on the Island; today, it is believed to number only around 400 birds in the wild. The species is threatened by habitat loss from overgrazing by non-native sheep, agricultural conversion by farmers, tree defoliation by locust swarms and from predation by introduced predators.
Public inquiries or requests for information about the six species of birds may be sent by mail to the Chief, Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, Virginia 22203, or by fax to 703-358-2276, by Email to ScientificAuthority@fws.gov, or through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.