Center for Biological Diversity




Center Seeks Endangered Species Act Protection for 56 Vanishing Birds from Around the World

Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher (Indonesia)
© Jon Riley

Alarmed about declines of scores of the world’s rarest and most beautiful bird species, ornithologists petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1980 and in 1991 to list more than 70 imperiled bird species around the world. After more than two decades of unreasonable delay, the Center filed a lawsuit in November 2006 to force the Service to provide Endangered Species Act protections for 56 of these birds.

The species include the rare Okinawa Woodpecker (Japan), Giant Ibis (Laos/Cambodia), Blue-throated Macaw (Bolivia), Black Stilt (New Zealand), Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher (Indonesia) and Slender-billed Curlew (Russia, Europe and North Africa).

Black Stilt (New Zealand)
© Martin Kramer

Greater Adjutant (South Asia) © Ronald Saldino

More than 20 years ago, the Service made determinations that many of these birds need protection. Two dozen birds have been waiting for final action from the agency since 1984, and 27 birds have been waiting since 1994. Despite clear evidence that these species are imperiled, the Service has illegally designated them as “warranted but precluded” from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Orange-Fronted Parakeet (New Zealand) © Dave Crouchley

Under a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Service promised to take action on six of the bird species. But the agency has delayed publishing proposed rules on listing the six species as threatened or endangered, despite its own determination in 2004 that the birds warrant listing.

The species are the Giant Ibis (Laos, Cambodia), Black Stilt (New Zealand), Gurney’s Pitta (Myanmar/Burma, Thailand), Socorro Mockingbird (Mexico), Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher (Sulawesi, Indonesia), and Long-legged Thicketbird (Fiji). At least 11 additional bird species included in the 1980 and 1981 listing petitions have gone extinct.

Takahe (New Zealand)
© Jeff Blincow

Black-hooded Antwren (Brazil)
© Arthur Grosset

Endangered Species Act protections could further restrict buying, selling and importation of these birds. It also may help ensure that U.S. government activities and funding for projects abroad do not jeopardize the species or their vanishing habitats, and could increase conservation funding and attention.

While awaiting protection, several of the bird species are suffering harm from trapping and trade, especially those that are primarily for sale as pets, such as the Uvea Parakeet (New Caledonia), Salmon-crested Cockatoo (Indonesia) and Blue-throated Macaw (Bolivia). This species of macaw likely only numbers between 75 and 150 birds in the wild. The cockatoo and macaw are supposed to be protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but this treaty has weaker enforcement provisions than the Endangered Species Act.

Okinawa Woodpecker

Endangered Species Act protection is particularly relevant for the Okinawa Woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii). The woodpecker is imperiled due to ongoing destruction of its forest habitat. A small number of woodpeckers remain in undisturbed subtropical forests in the northern mountainous region of the island of Okinawa, Japan. A major threat to remaining woodpecker habitat is a joint U.S. and Japanese military proposal to construct additional helicopter training landing areas, including roads and other related infrastructure.

The Okinawa Woodpecker lives only in Yanburu, a small ecologically unique area of forested woodlands in northern Okinawa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and Japan’s Ministry of Environment have designated the woodpecker a “critically endangered” species because it has only a single, small declining population. The woodpecker is the prefectural bird of Okinawa and is designated as a “national natural monument.” The International Council for Bird Preservation first petitioned for protection for the woodpecker in 1980.

Brazilian Merganser
© Arthur Grosset

Cauca Guan (Colombia)
© Robert Scanlon

Another of the species, the Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) is without a doubt one of the most critically imperiled bird species in the world. Once commonly sighted along its migration route from Europe to Africa, only two curlews have been seen since 1997, and it has been more than 85 years since a human last saw a curlew nest. The curlew’s wintering marsh habitat in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea and North Africa is being destroyed rapidly, and the current world population may be a mere 50-270 birds.

Chatham Oystercatcher (New Zealand)
© Bruce G. Marcot