The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) voted recently to designate several rare bird species as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The designation becomes effective on January 27, 2011 and will protect against the trade of, increase conservation funding to, and promote habitat safeguards of seven of the most imperiled species in Brazil.
The selected species live in or near the Atlantic forest biome, a region of tropical and subtropical moist forest, tropical dry forest, tropical savannas, and mangroves along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. The Atlantic forest, or Mata Atlântica has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve because of its high level of biodiversity and endangered inhabitants which include marmosets, lion tamarins, and woolly spider monkeys. It’s also massively threatened by the encroachment of civilization. For hundreds of years, the forest has been cleared for urban settlement and the production of sugar cane, with the result being that less than 10% of native, fractured, forest remains.
The species were chosen by the USFWS because they all inhabit the same region and share a high level of threat posed by destruction of their environment due to human activity. One of the species being listed is the black-headed antwren, a small member of the antbird family which lives in pairs or family groups and eats insects, spiders, and small frogs. Currently, the entire species consists of only one population of 1,000 – 2,500 individuals restricted to just 19 miles of coastline near Rio de Janeiro.
A Brazilian merganser. Image by US Fish and Wildlife Service
Another is the cherry-throated tanager. This small white, black, and red bird was presumed extinct until 1998. Estimates put its current population at just 50 – 250 individuals, probably inhabiting one small tract of protected forest.
In addition to the black-headed antwren and cherry-throated tanager, the designation includes the Brazilian merganser, the fringe-backed fire-eye, the Kaempfer’s tody-tyrant, the Margaretta’s hermit, and the southeastern rufous-vented ground cuckoo.
The USFWS decision follows decades of petitions and lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation nonprofit, over the preclusion of many imperiled species from the Endangered Species Act. In total, 25 international bird species have gained Endangered status in the past three years out of the 45 that were petitioned.
“Protecting these species under the Endangered Species Act will give them a better chance of survival, and it will help attract worldwide attention to the urgent plight of these animals,” said Justin Augustine, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope the Obama administration continues to undo the significant backlog of foreign species that deserve protection but have yet to receive it.”