For Immediate Release, January 16, 2008

Contact: Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185

Six Rare International Bird Species Listed as Endangered
Protection Comes in Response to Center for Biological Diversity Lawsuits

SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today listed six imperiled birds from around the world as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Fourteen years after first determining these species warranted protection, the Service finally responded to a series of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity and listed the black stilt (New Zealand), caerulean paradise-flycatcher (Indonesia), giant ibis (Laos, Cambodia), Gurney's pitta (Burma, Thailand), long-legged thicketbird (Fiji), and Socorro mockingbird (Mexico) as endangered species.

“The long overdue Endangered Species Act listings can make an important difference in the struggle to save these vanishing bird species,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scores more of the world’s rarest and most threatened bird species have been waiting for Endangered Species Act listing for over two decades, and it has required two lawsuits so far to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action toward listing these birds.”

Listing international species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricts buying and selling of imperiled wildlife, increases conservation funding and attention, and adds scrutiny to projects proposed by U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank.

The sad saga of the Service’s refusal to protect more than 50 of the world’s most imperiled bird species dates from 1980 and 1991, when ornithologists began submitting Endangered Species Act petitions to protect some of the world’s rarest birds. The Service determined these six species warranted listing in 1994 but illegally delayed responding to the petitions. The Center filed suit in 2004, forcing the agency to issue a long-overdue finding that 51 additional foreign birds warranted protection. At least five other petitioned bird species have gone extinct during the long delay in protecting them.

In 2004, the Service claimed listing was “precluded” by higher-priority listing actions for all the birds except for these six species. Despite finding that the six birds warranted listing, the Service refused to issue a proposed listing rule until 2006, after the Center sued again. In December 2006, the Service published a proposed listing rule for six other of the remaining 45 bird species, imperiled seabirds from New Zealand, Fiji, New Guinea, and the Galapagos Islands.

“The Bush administration has the worst record in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has not listed a U.S. species under the Act in 617 days. The Bush administration has listed just 58 species compared to 522 by the Clinton administration and 234 by Bush Senior."

The Bush administration continues to illegally delay protection for species on the Endangered Species Act “candidate” list — the official federal list of the most imperiled but unprotected U.S. species. Between 1973 and 1994, 85 species went extinct due to delays in granting federal protection, and 24 of these were on the candidate list. The Endangered Species Act stipulates that protection can only be delayed via the candidate list if the Service is making “expeditious progress” in placing “higher priority” species on the threatened and endangered lists — which does not appear to be happening. In December 2007, the Service’s annual publication of the candidate list showed it contained 280 species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

About the six bird species:

The critically imperiled Gurney’s pitta (Pitta gurneyi) once inhabited lowland evergreen rainforests throughout southern Myanmar (Burma) and the northern portion of the Thai Peninsula. This beautiful eight-inch, blue and turquoise bird is now extirpated from great portions of its range. Only one tiny population, estimated at between 24 and 30 individual birds, is known to exist in Thailand. In 2003 the Gurney’s pitta was sighted in Myanmar for the first time in almost 90 years, and only about 150 birds are thought to live there. Habitat loss is the greatest threat for the pitta. None of its habitat in Myanmar is protected, and forest is being destroyed for palm oil plantations at a rapid pace. Less than five percent of the original forest remains in peninsular Thailand, and many pitta territories have been destroyed by illegal logging. Illegal collecting for the pet trade is a serious threat.  

The Indonesian Caerulean paradise-flycatcher (Eutrichomyias rowleyi) was feared extinct until 1998. Only one tiny population of this bright, sky-blue bird is known, estimated at between 19 and 135 birds. The species is confined to a small forest grove on top of an extinct volcano on Sangihe Island, north of Sulawesi. The small area of forest remaining on the island is considered to be one of the most critical sites for bird conservation in Asia, but despite its vital importance to the Caerulean paradise-flycatcher and other imperiled species, this forest is being logged, burned, and converted to coconut and nutmeg plantations and agricultural land at an alarming pace.  

The black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae) is considered to be one of the rarest wading birds in the world. It is up to 16 inches tall with long red legs, a slender bill and black plumage. Formerly widespread across New Zealand, the bird now breeds only in the Upper Waitaki Valley, South Island. The population of black stilts crashed from 1,000 birds or more in 1950 to fewer than 100 birds in 1960. A captive-breeding program has been initiated, but the wild adult population currently consists of only 87 birds, with just 17 breeding pairs. This species suffers from heavy predation, primarily from introduced animals. Nesting areas have also been destroyed by drainage, weed growth, and hydroelectric development.  

The giant ibis (Pseudibis gigantean) is a three foot tall waterbird native to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The population has been conservatively estimated at a minimum of 100 pairs, with no more than 250 total individual birds. In 2005, the giant ibis was declared the national symbolic bird in Cambodia. The giant ibis is threatened by loss of wetlands to dam construction, deforestation, illegal logging and wood fuel collection, and continued human encroachment.  

The secretive long-legged thicketbird (Trichocichla rufa) is a six-inch tall bird with long blue legs, a short black bill, and a long tail, endemic to Fiji. The species was long considered extinct, with no confirmed observations since 1894. The first confirmed sighting in recent times was in 1974, and 12 pairs were rediscovered in 2002 on Viti Levu Island. The current population is estimated at 50 to 249 individual birds. The thicketbird is threatened by habitat destruction from logging, conversion to agriculture, and invasive species.  

The Socorro mockingbird (Mimus graysoni) is endemic to Socorro Island, Mexico, and is limited to an estimated six-square-mile range. Mostly brown with white underparts, this bird stands just 10 inches tall. It was once considered the most abundant landbird on Socorro Island, but by 1978 was on the verge of extinction. The population is estimated at between 287 and 419 individuals. The mockingbird is threatened by construction of a naval base, sheep overgrazing, locust swarms that have invaded that island since the mid-1990s, and predation by feral cats.

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