It’s looking like a handful of the world’s rarest and most gorgeous bird species – including the brilliantly blue Spix’s Macaw that inspired the animated movie Rio – have recently become extinct in the wild.
A new study by BirdLife International, published in the journal Biological Conservation, has used a novel statistical approach to assess whether 51 scarcely-seen birds species have slipped into extinction over the past decade
At least eight bird species should be added to the list of confirmed or suspected extinctions, according to their findings. This doomed list includes the Alagoas foliage-gleaner, the cryptic treehunter, and the poo-uli, all of which appear to be totally extinct with no individuals remaining in the wild or even captivity.
The Spix’s Macaw, the desperately pretty bird featured in the 2011 movie Rio, about a captive-raised male that goes to Brazil to mate with the last-known wild female of his species, is now believed to be extinct in the wild. Possibly extinct birds – species that not been sighted in a worryingly long time – including the Glaucous Macaw, the Pernambuco pygmy-owl, the Javan Lapwing, and the New Caledonian Lorikeet.
Humans, of course, are the lead suspect behind the recent extinctions.
"Human activities are the ultimate drivers of virtually all recent extinctions," Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Chief Scientist and lead author of the paper, told IFLScience.
"It is certainly the case that the rate of extinctions on continents is higher than ever before. And that the rate will continue to increase without concerted conservation efforts," he warned.
In previous instances of bird extinction over the past few centuries, the vast majority of victims lived on small islands. Although hunting and trapping often played a big role, they were most often driven extinction due to an invasive species.
However, we’re now seeing a different trend. Most of these species have become extinct as a result of deforestation and habitat losses in Brazil and other mainland South American forests.
The new research project took over eight years of studying scientific literature, reports of sightings, and information provided by experts. BirdLife International collected the findings in the hopes that the new insights will be used to inform and update the IUCN Red List, the go-to guide for animal conservation status, which is often used to inform policy.
"Determining the rate is difficult owing to time-lags in determining whether a species has been lost – so there are probably additional species lost over the last decade or two that we won’t declare extinct for a few more years," Butchart added.
Fear not, there was some vaguely optimistic news from the study (be warned, it's only a faint glimmer of hope). The Moorea Reed-warbler of French Polynesia is currently listed as Critically Endangered (Presumed Extinct), but the study recommends reclassification as Critically Endangered. The last reported sighting of the bird was in 2000, however, the study argues that a lack of targeted searches could mean individuals are still out there. Maybe.