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Puffin and turtle dove join the list of birds facing global extinction

29 October 2015

Grahame Madge
Senior Media Officer

Four of the UK's bird species, including the puffin and turtle dove, have today been added to the list of birds considered to be facing the risk of global extinction.

The latest annual revision of birds on the IUCN Red List, which has been announced by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN, doubles the number of UK bird species considered to be facing the risk of extinction to eight.

Shockingly, a further 14 UK species are considered to be Near Threatened, meaning that any further deterioration in their status could see them added to the red list too.

Martin Harper is the RSPB's Conservation Director. He said: “Today’s announcement means that the global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores. The number of species facing extinction has always been highest in the tropics, particularly on small islands. But now the crisis is beginning to exact an increasingly heavy toll on temperate regions too, such as Europe.

“The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”

The global revision also captures the crisis facing other birds around the world, including vultures where several African species have been listed as Critically Endangered – one step away from facing global extinction. In Africa, vultures are facing persecution and they are regularly poisoned or trapped.

Examining the list of changes among the UK’s birds to this year’s red list, several themes emerge, including: deterioration in the fortunes of some seabirds, such as puffin and razorbill; an ongoing and increasingly intense threat to wading birds, such as godwits, curlew, oystercatcher, knot and lapwing; and an increasing deterioration in the status of marine ducks, such as common eider, joining velvet scoter and long-tailed duck as species of concern.

A selection of this year’s changes in more detail:

Turtle dove: formerly the turtle dove was a familiar summer visitor to much of Europe including south-east England. Declines across Europe exceeding 30 per cent over the past 16 years have seen its threat status rise from Least Concern to Vulnerable. Scientists from the RSPB and other BirdLife International partners are trying to establish the reasons for the decline in the UK and Europe. The decline in the UK has been particularly high, with more than nine out of every ten birds being lost since the 1970s.

Atlantic puffin: Globally, this seabird is concentrated in Europe. Although its global population remains in the millions, breeding failures at some key colonies over recent years have been worryingly high, with many fewer young birds being recruited into the breeding population. These declines mean the species has been assessed as Vulnerable. Large declines have been reported in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway, which together hold 80 per cent of the European population. In the UK, there have been significant losses on Fair Isle and the Shetland Islands, but elsewhere in the UK this seabird seems to be doing well.

Slavonian grebe: The Slavonian grebe occurs across North America, northern Europe and northern Asia. The bulk of this waterbird’s population occurs in North America where it has undergone a large and significant decrease. This decline has triggered the inclusion of the Slavonian grebe on the list of species evaluated as Vulnerable.  However, new information collated from across Europe suggests the Slavonian grebe is declining here too. In the UK, the number of nesting Slavonian grebes, all in the Scottish Highlands, have declined although those wintering round the UK’s coasts have increased.

Pochard: The pochard occurs widely across Europe and Asia. Recent information collated from across Europe indicates that this duck has declined significantly in recent years and that this decline is ongoing. Globally, the pochard has been uplisted to Vulnerable. In the UK, the numbers of nesting pochard and the number of wintering individuals have declined markedly.

UK and European wading birds: The addition of knot, curlew sandpiper, bar-tailed godwit, oystercatcher, and lapwing to the list of Near Threatened Species is troubling for this group of birds, especially as the newly-listed species join others, such as the curlew and black-tailed godwit, which have been listed as Near Threatened in previous assessments.
The lapwing is a species which nests widely across Europe, including formerly most parts of the UK. Information from across Europe indicates that this bird has declined significantly in recent years and that this decline is ongoing.
The bar-tailed godwit, knot and curlew sandpiper are species which nest in the high Arctic and spend the winter on coasts further south, including in Britain. Declines in parts of their wide range, such as Siberia or eastern Asia, has led to the listing of these species as Near Threatened.

African vultures: six of Africa’s 11 vulture species have had their global threat status upgraded to a higher level.  Four of the species have been uplisted to Critically Endangered the highest category of threat before extinction. The main causes of the drop in African vulture populations are thought to be indiscriminate poisonings, where the birds are drawn to poisoned baits meant for predators such as lions or hyenas. The use of vulture body parts in traditional medicine and deliberate targeting by poachers trying to prevent the authorities being alerted to illegal ivory poaching or other wildlife crimes are also significant reasons for the illegal killing of vultures.

UK and European seaducks: Although the eider has a large global range across North America, northern Europe and northern Asia, new information from Europe suggests that this marine duck has declined significantly in recent years and that this decline is ongoing. The eider is one of a number of coastal ducks which have declined in recent years. In the UK, the long-tailed duck and the velvet scoter have both been listed as Vulnerable and Endangered respectively. Although this year’s revision of the red list has seen the velvet scoter’s status dropped to Vulnerable.

Today’s assessment is not all bad news. One particular conservation highlight is the Seychelles warbler. Once one of the world’s rarest songbirds, it was present on a number of Seychelles islands until human disturbance reduced it to a single population of just 26 birds on tiny Cousin Island in 1968. The island was purchased by the International Council for Bird Preservation (the forerunner to BirdLife International) in that year.

Subsequent intensive conservation management, such as the clearance of coconut plantations, which allowed the warbler’s woodland to regenerate, and translocations to four other Seychelles islands, means the population reached 2,800 individuals in 2014, with conservationists expecting it to rise to a capacity of around 7,000 birds in future. As a result the species has been downlisted from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Gwyn Williams, is the RSPB’s Head of Reserves and Protected Areas. He said: “Today’s assessment is a warning that nature is in trouble, but with funding and the right conservation measures threatened species can recover.”


The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

The IUCN Red List assesses the threat of extinction for each bird species. Those with no immediate threat of extinction are listed as Least Concern.
Those species considered to be facing a threat of global extinction are listed in three levels of descending threat: Critically Endangered; Endangered; and Vulnerable.
Those species which partially meet the criteria for facing global extinction are listed as Near Threatened: recognising the potential threat to their future. Those few species which can’t be assessed because of a lack of information are listed as Data Deficient. For a full list of the categories, please visit here.

The four regularly-occuring birds in the UK to be placed on this year’s IUCN Red List are: Atlantic Puffin; European Turtle Dove; Pochard; and Slavonian Grebe.
Four species were already on the Red List: Balearic Shearwater (Critically Endangered); Long-tailed Duck (Vulnerable); Velvet Scoter (Endangered, dropping to Vulnerable in the latest assessment) and Aquatic Warbler (Vulnerable).

Nine species of UK bird have today been listed as Near Threatened. These are: Bar-tailed Godwit; Common Eider; Curlew Sandpiper; Eurasian Oystercatcher; Meadow Pipit; Northern Lapwing; Razorbill; Knot; and Redwing.
The Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dartford Warbler, Sooty Shearwater and Red Kite were already listed as Near Threatened prior to the 2015 revision.

The six species of African vulture with a deteriorating status in this year’s revision of the Red List are: Hooded vulture, Endangered to Critically Endangered; African white-backed vulture, Endangered to Critically Endangered; white-headed vulture, Vulnerable to Critically Endangered; Rüppell's vulture, Endangered to Critically Endangered; Cape vulture, Vulnerable to Endangered; Lappet-faced vulture, Vulnerable to Endangered.