The 2009 IUCN Red List for birds broke records by listing more Critically Endangered birds than ever before. Despite this, there were individual species that bucked the global trend: Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari, a bright blue parrot from northeastern Brazil, was one of these. Due to effective conservation measures the parrot’s population has reached nearly a thousand birds (up from a low of just a hundred individuals in 1989), and therefore was moved down the list, from Critically Endangered to Endangered.
“The fight to save Lear’s Macaw is far from over, but the news that it is being downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered is a clear indication that hard work is paying off,” said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which has worked tirelessly to save Lear’s Macaw. “The overall picture for birds throughout the Americas and the rest of the world continues to be a great cause for concern, but the macaw serves as a shining example of what we can achieve when focused conservation action is backed up by broad cooperation and the required resources.”
The Lear’s Macaw was one of four bird species to be downgraded from Endangered to Critically Endangered. They were replaced by six others added to Critically Endangered. Photo by: Paul Salaman.
ABC and Brazilian conservation group Fundação Biodiversitas have partnered together to purchase and protect nearly 4,000 acres of Lear’s Macaw habitat, including nesting and roosting cliffs. The program began in 1991 when Fundação Biodiversitas created the Canudos Biological Station in order to protect the Lear Macaw’s dwindled habitat. With the help of ABC the reserve was expanded significantly in 2007. The groups estimate that 73 percent of the bird’s worldwide population lives in the reserve.
“Since purchasing the land with the generous support of multiple donors, American Bird Conservancy and Biodiversitas have concentrated on reducing illegal trapping and protecting the nesting and roosting areas from disturbance by renovating and expanding the reserve’s guard station, which helps with round-the-clock protection for the birds,” said Gláucia Drummond of Fundação Biodiversitas. “Thanks to a recent grant from the Jeniam Foundation, the building is being renovated to better accommodate visiting scientists and birders interested in observing and studying the macaws.”
Lear’s Macaw had become endangered due to illegal bird traders, habitat loss caused by human-made fires to clear forest, and goats devouring the birds’ primary food source: licurí palms. Next, ABC and Fundação Biodiversitas are planning reforestation efforts of the licurí palms and working with local landowners to establish a plan to keep goats from the palms.
In a bleak year so far for birds, the Lear’s Macaw provides hope for the many Critically Endangered birds remaining.
(05/14/2009) In this year’s updated IUCN Red List on birds, six species were down-listed from Critically Endangered to Endangered, but eight species were up-listed to Critically Endangered, leading to the highest number of Critically Endangered birds ever on the list. In all 1,227 bird species (12 percent) are currently considered threatened with global extinction.
(03/19/2009) Ken Salazar, the nation’s new Secretary of the Interior, today released the first comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States. The findings are not encouraging: nearly one third of United States’ 800 bird species are endangered with even once common species showing precipitous declines. Habitat loss and invasive species are blamed as the largest contributors to bird declines.
(02/02/2009) For an evolutionary biologist there is no conservation group whose work is more exciting than EDGE, a program developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Unique in the conservation world, EDGE chooses the species to focus on based on a combination of their threat of extinction and evolutionary distinctness. Katrina Fellerman, an evolutionary biologist herself and the EDGE birds’ coordinator, describes the organization as one that focuses on species, which “to put it bluntly, if lost, there would be nothing like them left in the world today”. Explaining further Fellerman says “We use evolutionary distinctiveness (ED) as a species-specific measure of the relative evolutionary value of species – it is a way of apportioning conservation value according to a species’ phylogenetic position. Species with few or no close relatives on the ‘tree of life’ have the highest ED scores.”