Just under half of the earth’s bird species are in decline, according to a jarring new report.
The State of the World’s Birds report is released every four years by BirdLife International, an international partnership of NGOs that collects scientific data about birds worldwide. The organization is the official source of information on birds used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species.
This year’s report found that 49% of bird species across the world are in decline, and one in eight are at risk of extinction, The Guardian reported. Only 6% of bird species are increasing in numbers.
“We have to stop these declines and start getting on track for recovery,” BirdLife International’s chief scientist, told The Guardian. “Our future, as well as the world’s birds, depends on it. If we continue to unravel the fabric of life, we’re going to continue to place our own future at threat.”
The biggest threat to birds worldwide is agriculture, BirdLife International said in its summary of the report. That includes habitat loss from the expansion of farms, along with threats posed by machinery and harmful chemicals used in farming. In Europe, farmland bird populations have dropped by 50% since 1980.
National Geographic reported on this issue among birds in France in 2018, citing major declines in species like the common whitethroat, a small bird that has suffered as pesticides kill off the insects it eats to survive.
Logging is also a major threat to birds, like the harpy eagle, which makes its home in large, old-growth trees in Central and South American rainforests.
Extreme weather events caused by climate change are also a source of danger.
“Birds tell us about the health of our natural environment — we ignore their messages at our peril,” BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita said in a statement. “Many parts of the world are already experiencing extreme wildfires, droughts, heatwaves and floods, as human-transformed ecosystems struggle to adapt to climate change.”
Zurita added that the report’s dire findings highlighted the importance of the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference, COP 15, which will take place in December.