TORONTO — One in eight bird species worldwide face the threat of extinction, according to a recent
report by Birdlife Canada.
Common species such as the barn swallow are disappearing at an alarming rate, with 80 to 90 per cent of the population wiped out in last 20 years.
In Canada, populations of grassland birds are in steep decline, dropping by a third according to the report. Arctic shorebirds and insectivores, like swallows and martens are also dwindling in Canada with the main culprits being agriculture, development, and climate change.
Gallery: Canada’s endangered birds
Once one of the most numerous shore birds to spot on their stopovers in the Great Plains in spring and Atlantic Canada in fall, the Eskimo Curlew's current status is unknown. The species is considered critically endangered, or worse, already extinct. The curlew bred in the tundra of the Northwest Territories and wintered in the pampas of Argentina, but recent searches in both areas have yielded no confirmed sightings. Unregulated hunting brought this species to the brink of extinction, and although hunting has since been outlawed, populations never recovered. Canadian reporter and naturalist Fred Bodsworth wrote The Last of Curlews in 1954, a fictionalized account of the life of the last Eskimo Curlew. Bodsworth's novel was made into the very first afterschool special in 1972 for ABC.
Don Bleitz on Galveston Island (1962)
Greater sage-grouse populations are in decline due to loss of habitat. There are between 200,000 and 500,000 today, down from 16 million 100 years ago. In 2000 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed the subspecies Centrocercus urophasianus phaios as extirpated from Canada as it has not been seen in the country for over 100 years. Another subspecies, Centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus, lives in the sagebrush grasslands of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, but was deeemed endangered by COSEWIC in 2008.
APR 27 1977; John Prieto/The Denver Post via Getty Images
In Canada, the endangered Mountain Plover breeds in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, nesting on bare ground. The loss of native short-grass prairie, and degradation from cultivation, urbanisation, over-grazing, is believed to be a factor in large the decrease of their abundance.
In the 19th and 20th century Piping Plovers were hunted for their feathers used as decorations for women's hats, leading to the initial population decline. About a quarter of Canada's Piping Plovers nest in the Atlantic provinces and remainder breed in the prairie provinces. Both subspecies have small populations are endangered in Canada. Disturbance and habitat loss are primary threats, particularly because most nesting areas are heavily used by people. The latest census recorded 3,320 birds on the Atlantic Coast, 4,662 in the Great Plains, and 110 in the Great Lakes.
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The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Henslow's Sparrow, which breeds in souther Ontario, as endangered due to loss and degradation of its grassland habitats in 2000.
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In Canada, the endangered Burrowing Owl resides in the western grasslands, nesting in prairie dog burrows or artificial burrows, such as plastic tubing. The prairie provinces saw the Burrowing Owl population decline by 90 percent in the 1990s. A major factor in declining populations in Canada seems to be a significant and continuing loss of habitat, both on the breeding and wintering grounds in the US and Mexico.
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In Canada, the Northern Bobwhite is native to southern Ontario grasslands and savannahs and it is generally believed that only natural population is on Walpole Island near Windsor, ON and perhaps the adjacent mainland. The small grouse was listed as endangered in 1994 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and reaffirmed in 2003. According to Birdlife, over 20 million were recently being killed annually by hunters. Other major threats such as pesticides, herbicides, forestry and lack of prescribed fires continue to deplete Northern Bobwhite populations.
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The population of Kirtland's Warblers was severely threatened in the 1950s, but thanks to conservation action the population has been rising since 1987. However the warblers' overall population remains small. In Canada, Kirtland's Warblers are listed as endangered, with their limited abundance thought to be due to loss of jack pine barrens where they nest.
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The Acadian Flycatcher was designated endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 1994 and re-confirmed in 2010. The flycatcher lives in very low numbers in the Carolinian forest area of southern Ontario. However there is relatively little suitable habitat remaining for the flycatcher. The species requires vast areas of mature undisturbed forest -- most living in forests more than 40 hectares in size. Residential development, farms, swamp draining and logging are affecting flycatcher populations. Populations of Acadian Flycatchers in the US remain stable.
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The Horned Lark was classified as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as Endangered in 2003 and may in fact be extirpated from the country. The lark lives in a wide variety of treeless environments across Canada, from mountain peaks and prairies to tundra and seaside barrens. In the US Horned Larks are among the bird species most often killed by wind turbines. The species has an extremely wide range and large population elsewhere, stretching across Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia.
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Although believed to be a naturally rare species, the Whooping Crane was designated as endangered by COSEWIC in 1978 because of its rapid decline in the early 20th century.
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The endangered Loggerhead Shrike lives in the prairie grasslands, and south-central and eastern Ontario's Alvar ecosystems. Decreasing pastures fit for nesting set the shrikes' population on the decline between 1946 and 1986. A captive population was established at the Toronto Zoo with McGill University in 1997. In 2001 the university and zoo began releasing captive pairs into the wild. Over 90 pairs have been released annually since 2004.
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Common to Canada's coniferous forests, the Red Crossbill has been on the decline since 1970. One subspecies specific to insular Newfoundland, percna, has been listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as endangered in 2004.
Tim Fitzharris/Global News
A very rare bird in Canada, the Sage Thrasher's annual populations are likely less than 12 pairs on average. The Sage Thrasher was assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as Endangered in 1992, because of its small population size and the continuing threat of habitat loss. The Sage Thrasher lives in sagebrush during the breeding season, however fire or other land management that removes the shrub can eliminate thrasher populations. In Canada, the birds only nest regularly in southern British Columbia, a population linked to Washington state, where at least half of their habitat has been lost to agriculture.
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In Canada, the King Rail breeds in large marshes in parts of southern Ontario, however targeted searches have found shrinking breeding range and decreasing populations since the 1970s. The King Rail was designated endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 1994. Loss of wetland habitat is the most predominant factor in the ongoing decline of King Rails. Contamination of water-bodies by pollutants and pesticides, draining for agriculture, disturbance from boat traffic, predation and sport hunting have lead to a loss of over 80 percent of prime nesting habitat in Ontario.
Endangered in Canada, Roseate Terns nest almost exclusively in Nova Scotia with small colonies extending to the Magdalene Islands. Population has been declining since the 1970s where predation from by seagulls, owls, night herons and minks is a large factor, along with human development, pollution and disease. While there are between 100-500 breeding birds left in Canada Roseate Tern populations remain stable in other countries.
Fewer than 20 Spotted Owls remain in British Columbia. The owl lives in old growth coniferous forests in the southwestern mainland of BC. The Spotted Owl has been in conservationists' sights more than most bird species after over half its habitat was lost to logging, agriculture and urban development in the western United States. Fierce competition from the Barred Owl contributed to declining populations as well. No juvenile Spotted Owls in the Canadian population have survived to adulthood since monitoring began in the 1990s according to COSEWIC. Current conservation plans in Canada include the protection of sites where Spotted Owls were known to live, the removal of Barred Owls from active Spotted Owl territory and a captive breeding program.
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Canada’s bird population has dropped about 12 per cent since 1970. While some progress has been made in restoring bird of prey and waterfowl populations in Canada, the report indicates that more populations are declining than increasing.
“We’re worried about birds for their own sake. But they’re also really good indicators for environment more broadly,” said Stuart Butchart, Birdlife International’s chief scientist.
The Eskimo curlew, a migratory tundra species hunted into oblivion, hasn’t been seen in the wild for 49 years. Once that clock hits 50 years, the bird will be declared extinct.
Canadian reporter and naturalist Fred Bodsworth wrote The Last of Curlews in 1954, a fictionalized account of the life of the last Eskimo Curlew. Bodsworth’s novel was made into the very first afterschool special in 1972 for ABC.
-with files from the Associated Press