A comprehensive review of birds has identified hundreds of new species that have previously been lumped with known ones -- and a quarter of the newly discovered birds are already being listed as threatened.
BirdLife International assessed the 361 newly recognized bird species on behalf of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). More than 25 percent of them were instantly placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. About 13 percent of all birds are already listed.
“Put another way, one tenth of the world’s bird species have been flying below the conservation radar,” BirdLife’s Stuart Butchart says in a news release. Sometimes, distinct species are mislabeled as variants of a single species; other times, different populations become so inaccessible to each other that they become reproductively isolated.
For example, until now, only one species of ostrich had been recognized, and it was assessed as “least concern” on the Red List. But with the new assessment, the Somali ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes, pictured), found in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya, is now considered a distinct species. And it’s listed as “vulnerable,” with its populations rapidly declining because of hunting, egg-collecting, and persecution.
This is the first of a two-part taxonomic review focusing on non-passerines, such as raptors, owls, seabirds, and waterfowl. (Passserines, on the other hand, are songbirds, like our neighborhood sparrows and crows.) That brings the new non-passerines total to 4,472.
Previous classifications have been underselling avian diversity. And it may already be too late for the blue-bearded helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus), which hasn’t been seen for nearly 70 years. Four different species of this hummingbird genus were just barely recognized this year.
The 2014 assessment further highlights how bird diversity is focused in a few threatened hotspots, such as the Indonesian islands and parts of the Philippine archipelago. Southeast Asia is home to many (some critically endangered) species that occur nowhere else on the planet, many of which are clinging on in small numbers. Some newly recognized birds include the Javan flameback (Chrysocolaptes strictus), a “vulnerable” woodpecker, and the Javan blue-banded kingfisher (Alcedo euryzona), which enters the Red List as “critically endangered.”
This latest work also reassesses the status of existing species. The Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) is known from only three small areas in the Himalayas, and following recent road construction and uncontrolled fires, it’s being reclassified as “critically endangered.” The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), while recovering in Europe, is declining globally because of poisoning, disturbance and collisions with powerlines, moving it to “near threatened” from “least concern.”