From the ‘little dodo’ to the flightless parrot: World’s 100 most unique and endangered birds are revealed in new list
- Experts have revealed the most diverse birds in the world that are on the verge of extinction
- The list of 100 birds was released by the Zoological Society of London and Yale University
- It is based on a paper that examined 10,000 bird species and identified 100 areas where more effort was needed
- Some of the incredible birds highlighted include one that is so oily it can be used as a lamp
What does the ‘little dodo’ have in common with a bird that stomps on the head of its prey?
They are both part of the world’s 100 most unique and endangered birds.
The list was revealed by experts at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Yale University.
Extensive research has revealed the world’s 100 most distinct birds that are threatened with extinction, including the New Zealand kakapo seen here, the world’s heaviest parrot. The male kakapo produces a loud boom call to attract potential mates which can be heard up to three miles (five kilometres) away
Ranging from the ankle-high sandpiper to the prehistoric-looking greater adjutant, which stands as tall as an adult human, scientists assessed the species according to how Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) they are.
EDGE Birds represent millions of years of unique evolutionary history. They are not only threatened with extinction, but are also highly unique in the way they look, live and behave.
‘Half of the 100 highest ranked EDGE bird species are receiving little or no conservation attention,’ says Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager at the Zoological Society of London.
‘We lament the extinction of the dodo, but without action we stand to lose one of its closest relatives, the tooth-billed pigeon or ‘little dodo’, and many other extraordinary birds.
‘The release of the EDGE Birds list enables us to prioritise our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species.
‘These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world.’
The Philippine eagle preys on monkeys and flying lemurs, but despite its strength this impressive bird is now under huge threat from deforestation as it requires an area bigger than the city of Oxford to rear a single chick. ZSL will now be spearheading a new conservation project to conserve its habitat
The birds on the EDGE list are both remarkable and endangered. They include the incredible greater adjutant (left), which looks like a prehistoric creature, and a hummingbird found only on Isla Róbinson Crusoe known as the Juan Fernández Firecrown (right)
The Secretarybird is so-called because it supposedly resembles an old-fashioned secretary carrying quill-pens tucked behind their ears
One of the most critically endangered birds listed is the northern bald ibis from Morocco.
With a head that looks like it has been dipped in a bucket of red paint, this striking bird suffered a severe population crash following the introduction of pesticides in the 1950s, and there are now believed to be less than 300 adult birds remaining in the wild.
‘The EDGE birds species campaign is of great importance to helping save some magnificent animals,’ says Charis Webster, Editor for World of Animals magazine.
‘Saving endangered creatures is crucial not only to preserve the heritage of some of the most unusual and beautiful birds on the planet, but also to maintain a healthy ecosystem and everything in it.
‘The rate of extinction has now far surpassed the natural rate, which you should be able to count on two hands.
‘We’re now losing species at a phenomenal rate, up to 10,000 times the expected level.’
EDGE birds were identified in a paper studied by a team of international scientists published today in Current Biology.
Some of the other fascinating birds included a cave-dwelling bird that is so oily it can be used as a lamp and another that has claws on its wings and a stomach like a cow.
The research in the paper shows that Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand all score high on responsibility for preserving irreplaceable species.
The researchers examined nearly 10,000 bird species and identified more than 100 areas where additional protection efforts would help safeguard avian biodiversity.
Lead author Prof Walter Jetz from Yale University and Imperial College London, says: ‘These highly distinct and endangered birds often occur far away from places that are species-rich or are already on conservation’s radar.
‘By identifying these top 100 species, we can now focus our efforts on targeted conservation action and better monitoring to help ensure that they are still here for future generations to come.
‘As we show, conservation priorities can be adjusted to better conserve the avian tree of life and the many important functions it provides.’
The spoon-billed sandpiper is a small wading bird that has a unique spatula-shaped bill. Every year the birds undertake an incredible 8,000-kilometre journey from their breeding grounds in northeast Russia to their main wintering grounds in Bangladesh and Myanmar
The EDGE of Existence programme aims to increase awareness of forgotten species, build conservation capacity in countries in which they occur through awarding Fellowships to future conservation leaders and initiate targeted conservation action for priority EDGE species that are being overlooked by other conservation initiatives
Genetic data was used to identify the bird species that have the fewest relatives on the ‘Tree of Life.’
The species were then scored on the ‘evolutionary distinctness’ index.’
The index was created by PhD student Dave Redding formely from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada and was applied to an updated version of the first global tree of birds, published in 2012 in Nature.
The researchers, led by Arne Mooers and Walter Jetz at Yale University, combined the index with data on extinction risk and maps of where every bird in the world lives.
The result is a snapshot of how the entire Tree of Life of birds is distributed on the planet, and where on Earth the tree is most at risk of being lost.
ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme ranks species, such as the pictured Egyptian Vulture, according to their evolutionary distinctiveness (the amount of unique history they represent) and global endangerment (their extinction risk)
The northern bald ibis (left) occupies the number 12 spot on the EDGE birds list, while the Juan Fernández Firecrown (right) comes in at number 56
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, such as the giant ibis seen here
‘Given that we cannot save all species from extinction, these distinct species are of special conservation concern, since they are truly irreplaceable – they have no close relatives that share their DNA,’ Mooers says.
Jeff Joy, a team member from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, adds: ‘Many of these distinct species are also incredibly cool.’
For example one bird is an oily cave-dweller, the oilbird, that was once used to make oil for lamps, another ‘has claws on its wings and a stomach like a cow, while still another, the Abbott’s Booby, breeds only on Christmas Island.’
Mapping where distinct species are on the planet also gives insight into which areas and countries steward disproportionate amounts of bird evolution.
The data also offer some insight into large-scale processes affecting biodiversity, according to Mooers.
‘We also found that if we prioritize threatened birds by their distinctness, we actually preserve very close to the maximum possible amount of evolution,’ says Mooers.
‘This means our method can identify those species we cannot afford to lose and it can be used to preserve the information content represented by all species into the future. Both are major goals for conservation biology.’
The new rankings will be used in a major conservation initiative called the ‘Edge of Existence’ run by the Zoological Society of London.
London Zoo has already identified several species like the huge monkey-eating Philippine eagle that are at once distinct, endangered, and suffer from lack of attention.
Along with its own conservation projects, the programme supports local conservationists, known as EDGE Fellows, to lead projects on poorly-known EDGE species.
ZSL is now looking for new Fellows to champion the EDGE bird species and ensure a future for these remarkable feathered creatures.
10 HIGHLIGHTED SPECIES FROM THE EDGE BIRDS LIST*
*(number indicates EDGE rank)
1. Giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) – occupying the top spot on the EDGE birds list this striking bird is the world’s largest ibis. It is the national bird of Cambodia and, owing to its rarity and exceptional size, holds near-mythical status for bird-watchers, naturalists and conservationists
4. Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) – the world’s heaviest parrot, the New Zealand kakapo is also unusual in being nocturnal and flightless. The male kakapo produces a loud ‘boom’ call to attract potential mates which can be heard up to three miles (five kilometres) away.
8. Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) – one of the largest and rarest eagles on the planet, this incredible predator was formerly thought to prey exclusively on monkeys. It is now known to prey on a variety of animals ranging from rodents and bats to pigs and monitor lizards.
11. Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) – this small wading bird has a unique spatula-shaped bill. Every year it undertakes an incredible 8,000-kilometre (5,000 miles) journey from its breeding ground in northeast Russia to its main wintering ground in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
12. Northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) – once widespread across Northern Africa and Europe, this distinctive, red-faced bird has declined to just 200 breeding wild adults. There are more than 2,000 individuals in captivity, including a population at ZSL London Zoo.
28. Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) – so-called because it supposedly resembles an old-fashioned secretary carrying quill-pens tucked behind his ears, this unmistakable African bird has an incredible method of stalking its prey, which it often stamps on before swallowing whole.
34. Tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus strigirostris) – also known as the ‘little dodo’ this archaic, pigeon-like bird is found only on the island of Samoa. With fewer than 250 adults estimated to survive, urgent action is needed to save the species from the fate of its infamous relative, the dodo.
42. Lesser florican (Sypheotides indicus) – this iconic black and white florican is best known for the male’s elaborate aerial courtship displays in which the male leaps vertically in the air in a flurry of wings and legs to attract a mate.
56. Juan Fernandez firecrown (Sephanoides fernandensis) – this beautiful, fiery hummingbird is found on only one island off the coast of Chile. During territorial disputes, the firecrown will hover in front of the intruder and flash its crown of stunning, iridescent plumage.
73. Greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) – this enormous prehistoric-looking stork grows to 1.5 m high with a wingspan of 2.5m. The name ‘adjutant’ actually refers to a military rank – it was given to this bird on account of its stiff, marching walk.