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By Pete Davidson (Senior Conservation Advisor) and Andrew Couturier (Senior Director, Landscape Science and Conservation), Birds Canada


Each year, the global extinction risk to all bird species is assessed by BirdLife International, the official Red List Authority for birds for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.  The results for 2020 were announced in December. Just two North American species changed status, and one of their stories gives us cause for cautious optimism.

Wood Thrush

The Wood Thrush has become a symbol for Neotropical migrants: songbirds that breed in North America and migrate long distances to winter in Central and South America, many of which are declining. Results from the North American Breeding Bird Survey prompted the species to be listed as Near Threatened in 2014. Fortunately, those losses appear to have slowed over the past decade.  Consequently, the 2020 Red List update “down-listed” Wood Thrush to the lowest category of threat on the Red List: Least Concern.  This may be due in part to improved stewardship and slower rates of loss of mature deciduous and mixed forests in the core breeding range in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern U.S. However, improvements in analyzing the Citizen Science data may also be contributing to this apparent trend.  

Help study Wood Thrush populations in Ontario

Here in Canada, our understanding is set to improve further as volunteers with the 3rd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas collect data on Wood Thrush and all other breeding species over the next five years.  What changes will this barometer of conservation progress show for the Wood Thrush and other Neotropical migrants? Help us find out by joining the Atlas and listening for the Wood Thrush’s ethereal, fluty song in your local woodlands.

Bahama Warbler

The other North American species featuring in this year’s update is the Bahama Warbler. You may remember that in September 2019, Hurricane Dorian ripped through the Bahamas. Work by BirdLife International partners the American Bird Conservancy and Bahamas National Trust has documented large, catastrophically impacted areas of the Bahama Warbler’s native pine forest habitat.  The warbler has been reassessed two categories higher than prior to the hurricane, being “up-listed” from Near Threatened to Endangered.

Secretarybird Photo: Ron Ridout

Raptors in Africa

Elsewhere, one of the biggest stories from the 2020 update is the rapid loss of several of Africa’s iconic raptors: the Secretarybird, whose unmistakable head feathers resemble “a secretary with quills tucked behind their ear”; the Martial Eagle; and the Bateleur. Habitat loss and degradation, poisoning and poaching, and human disturbance are all likely factors contributing to each being reassessed as Endangered.  Learn more in this article exploring the issues with BirdLife Partners on the ground in Africa.

Andean Condor

A bit closer to home, the Andean Condor, has been up-listed to Vulnerable. This species is the national bird of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Its up-listing is primarily due to rapid recent declines driven by persecution and poisoning. 

“The Andean Condor is built to last. But humans are ruining its natural ‘live slow, die old’ life strategy (some birds live up to 70 years), causing high death rates from which it is hard for the population to recover,” says Ian Davidson, Regional Director of BirdLife in the Americas.

“This iconic raptor has been found in Andean folklore since 2500 BC. To lose it now would be a tragedy for South American culture and ecosystems alike.”


Learn more and help birds

More global bird stories from the 2020 Red List update can be found here. You can also read this article to learn more about the Red List and BirdLife International’s role in assessing bird species.

Want to help prevent bird extinctions? Visit our Top 6 Ways to Help Birds and take action where you live.

Wood Thrush on a log
Wood Thrush Photo: Yousif Attia
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