Archive for BirdLife International
Vultures may not be the prettiest of birds: They are often reviled for their looks, and are prone to illegal killing and poisoning, but it’s hard to argue against their usefulness. Continue reading
In a first for UK science, a European Turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) has been tracked by satellite tagging as it travelled 11,200km from Suffolk in England to Mali, Africa, and back again.
Flying mostly under the cover of darkness, the bird, named Titan, flew 500-700 kilometres a night across epic landscapes such as the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Cádiz, visiting Senegal, Morocco and Spain en route. His maximum speed was 60km per hour.
Titan was fitted with a small, lightweight satellite tag in Suffolk in summer 2014 by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science. Since then, Titan is playing a vital role in solving a serious conservation problem: how to prevent the rapid loss of his species from across Europe.
Turtle doves have recently been up listed to ‘Vulnerable’ status on the 2015 European red list, with their population plummeting by 77% across the continent since 1980. In fact, the disappearance of these birds is happening so rapidly that their numbers in the UK are halving every six years. If the decline continues at this rate, the species may be lost as a breeding bird in the UK within the next couple of decades.
The satellite tag was fitted on Titan in the garden of an RSPB volunteer in the UK. Photo: RSPB
In the UK, the number of breeding attempts per turtle dove pair halved between the 1960s and the late 1990s, which on its own can explain the population decline of UK breeding turtle doves. The RSPB is working on the premise that due to changes in agricultural practices, the availability of favoured weed seeds has declined, leading to reduced annual productivity. We are working with farmers to make the most of agri-environment schemes that support provision of hedges and scrub for nesting, and turtle-dove foraging plots: areas sown and managed specifically for the birds.
After being fitted with the tag, Titan remained in Suffolk until the end of September, when he headed through France into Spain and finally into Africa, going from Mauritania to Senegal and settling in Mali, where he spent the winter.
On migration, many turtle doves fly over the Mediterranean, a danger zone because of the hunting of turtle doves here. When Titan first entered this region, the legal hunting seasons in France and Spain were in full swing. Estimates suggest that around one million birds are killed across the western European flyway each autumn.
But this is only one of many challenges migratory birds face, and not all make it. RSPB researchers fitted two turtle doves with satellite tags in 2014. However, only Titan made it successfully to the wintering grounds in Africa and back again.
There are many factors in Africa that could play a part in the alarming decline of turtle doves as well, such as a lack of reliable sources of food and water and limited suitable roosting sites. Africa has seen significant agricultural expansion and intensification, as well as desertification, in recent decades.
Tracking Titan on his journey has given the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science valuable information, including the route taken, resting points and lengths of stays at those points, which will help understand where to target conservation efforts.
To encourage international collaboration on a plan to save turtle doves, the RSPB helped organise a symposium and round table event at the European Ornithologists Union conference this August to bring together academics and conservationists from across the species’ range at a flyway scale. Add to that, BirdLife International launched a new three-year EU LIFE+ funded project in April 2015 to identify the conservation needs of turtle doves (along with another 15 species) and to develop an International Species Action Plan.
There are also widespread efforts to ‘regreen’ the Sahel belt where turtle doves overwinter, which may bring back some of the roosting sites they need.
Titan finally left Mali on 19 May, and made swift progress through Mauritania and Algeria, arriving in Morocco on 24 May. Having just crossed the 2,000 km of the Sahara, he spent about two weeks resting in Morocco before crossing into Europe on 6 June. Passing through Spain and France, he finally returned to the UK, ending his journey very close to the spot he was first tagged a year earlier.
BirdLife International, with Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie (SOP Manu – BirdLife Partner in French Polynesia) and Island Conservation, has just completed an ambitious conservation operation on six remote islands in the Tuamotu (Acteon group) & Gambier archipelagos. The project makes an unprecedented contribution to saving one of our world’s rarest birds and a number of other endangered species from extinction. With the support of local people, government and NGO organisations – many helping directly in project implementation – this operation has reset the native ecological balance to a time probably not known on these islands since Polynesian colonisation. Local livelihoods are also expected to benefit as a result of the projects success.
The Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove Alopecoenas erythropterus, locally known as the Tutururu, is one of the world’s rarest birds. Found on just five small atolls in French Polynesia, there are only about 150 of these birds left in the world. Thanks to this project the safe habitat now available to the Tutururu has more than doubled.
Even though these islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 1500km from Tahiti, their isolation has not protected them from a negative human legacy. The birds on these islands evolved in the absence of predatory mammals, but the arrival of humans also brought a suite of invasive species. Flightless and defenceless, chicks and eggs are eaten by invasive predators such as rats, and native ecosystems are severely disturbed by other animal and plant invaders.
The team’s surveys in this project confirmed that almost all of the remaining Polynesian Ground-dove live on a nearby rat-free atoll.
“Invasive alien species are a key driver of global biodiversity loss,” says Don Stewart, Director of BirdLife Pacific. “Introduced mammals alone are believed to be responsible for 90% of all bird extinctions since 1500, and are presently the main cause of decline for nine out of ten globally threatened birds within the Pacific.”
Using island restoration methods proven on over 400 islands around the world, the team created much-needed safe habitat for the resident and Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove, Endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper Prosobonia parvirostris (Titi) and Endangered Polynesian Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa, as well as a number of Critically Endangered plant species.
“Rarely do we get the chance to have such a big impact in biodiversity conservation with just one project”, said Steve Cranwell, Operation Manager and Invasive Species expert from BirdLife Pacific.
“In the last few days of the operation more Polynesian Ground-dove and Tuamotu Sandpiper were sighted on Vahanga – the chances of finding established populations on these islands in a year’s time are high”, said Richard Griffiths, Island Conservation Project Director.
“This is a sign of hope for recovery not only for these French Polynesian species, but for the hundreds of threatened island species around the world waiting for similar interventions on their behalf”.
Incredible logistical challenge and adventure
Delivering this incredibly important result for native wildlife required a herculean logistical commitment and a team of 31 personnel hailing from three continents and six countries. The successful shipment of hundreds of tonnes of equipment, and donated supplies from key partners Bell Laboratories and Tomcat, to these remote islands (including a helicopter); and the ability to overcome adverse weather, intestinal maladies and sleep deprivation, was some testimony to the three years of planning and preparation!
“Amazingly, given everything that could have gone wrong, we kept on track”, said Steve Cranwell.
“By tackling a group of islands in one extensive operation – sharing transport, equipment and expertise – we could restore all six threatened islands for the price of restoring less than two islands individually”, explained Steve. “But totalling almost a million Euros, this is our biggest restoration project ever.”
A project of this nature is synonymous with adventure. “Flying in a helicopter hundreds of miles over open ocean with nowhere to land other than the distant ‘pin-prick’ atoll you’re aiming for tends to heighten an interest in weather conditions…” recalls Steve.
A central part of the operation’s success has been the contribution from local people and organisations. Businesses provided essential services and the French Polynesian government assisted with costs. Local people helped plan the operation and supported its implementation, from surveying for Tutururu and Titi, to helping remove the invasive species including clearing dense tangles of the plant, Lantana, which was out-competing the native forest.
“Thanks to everyone who gave invaluable help – from the Polynesian locals, to local groups, to the Nuku Hau boat crew, to the Gambier City Council, to landowners, to every boatman that transported the crew, even in bad weather!” said Tom Ghestemme, Director of SOP Manu. “A project of this size could only have happened with your collaboration.”
Future – lives saved and livelihoods bettered
The operation is just the beginning of this relationship. In the coming years, SOP Manu and project partners will continue to support the local communities in preventing the return of rats and other invasive species; and in monitoring the return of Tutururu, Titi, and the many other rare seabirds and plants expected to recover with the removal of rats.
“Managing coconut production so both the needs of the Pa’umotu people, the native wildlife and ecosystems are met will be one essential element in the ongoing protection of these islands”, said Tom Ghestemme.
“The continued support and enthusiasm of the local people and government of French Polynesia are absolutely crucial to the eventual success of this project,” said Steve Cranwell. “Not only are the lives of Tutururu and Titi dependent on a culture of biosecurity on these islands, but so is the quality of life and livelihoods of the Pa’umotu people.”
“The islands of French Polynesia face many threats from invasive species to climate change and to have this assistance in reversing some of these negative impacts is a tremendous gift to protecting our islands, traditions and way of life” said Father Joël Aumeran Vicar general of Papeete Diocese, Catholic Church, owner of Acteon islands. Through biosecurity we will continue to support this investment ensuring a legacy that Pa’umotu people and generations to come will benefit from.”
“It will be one year before we can declare the six islands rat-free, but initial signs are very positive”, said Steve.
The second phase of this project still needs your support to ensure these invasive predators do not return. Please support us here: https://kriticalmass.com/p/savepacificbirds
It’s summer time, so it’s only natural that people – especially holiday-goers – are making a beeline for coasts and beaches. But as if jostling for space with other vacationers on the beach and water wasn’t enough, there’s also marine litter to contend with. This may seem like ‘just rubbish’ to us, but for seabirds, its effects can be devastating. Continue reading
Marine wildlife in Europe has long been suffering because of human activities. Although we have a lot of work to do still, here are three marine stories that show the Nature Directives work when they are put to good use. Continue reading
It’s been over a decade that Balearic Shearwater has held the dangerous title ‘Critically Endangered’, which puts it at the very top of the European Red List of Birds. To make sure it doesn’t disappear before our very eyes requires some very careful monitoring at sea, where it spends most of its life, and also on land where it breeds. But so far we haven’t been doing enough to ensure the conservation of this species and if we wait any longer, we might notice too late that it’s gone forever. Continue reading