Welcome to Birdquest
THE WORLD’S MOST ENDANGERED SPECIES
Many of our regulars have a list of destinations they want to visit before they hang up their binoculars and it can sometimes be bewildering to decide in which order to do them. The most important factor is to be able to participate in a particular tour of course in terms of physical effort but close behind is whether or not some of the star attractions of a tour will still be around to see. Unfortunately around 2% of the World's birds are categorized by BirdLife International as 'Critically Endangered' with many more teetering on the brink of 'uplisting' to this horrible status. The following is a selection of some of the world's most endangered birds, which are still available on our tours and we hope this might inspire you to go and see some of them while you still can.
It is sad enough when any bird goes extinct in the wild but particularly when it looks as beautiful as this one. Orange-bellied Parrot is estimated to number as few as 1-49 individuals and is known to breed at only one site, where it appears to have undergone an extremely rapid recent decline. The reasons for this recent decline are unclear but the major threat is thought to be the fragmentation and degradation of its overwintering habitat. Extinction in the wild is expected to take place within 3-5 years and it is planned for further individuals to be taken from the wild into a captive breeding programme. Time really is running out to see this bird on the Tasmania extension to our Southern Australia tour.
One of the rarest birds in the world, if not the rarest, this duck clings on by the thinnest strand of thread at Lake Matsaborimena in northern Madagascar. It was thought to have been lost in 1991 but was rediscovered in 2006 at this single lake where 21 individuals were present in 2012. There is a possibility that it may persist elsewhere in even more remote areas but its population will still be really tiny. It may be so rare owing to habitat change and destruction as well as hunting but the biggest current threats are some kind of random event as well as its tiny gene pool. There is a conservation programme underway to try to save it run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Let's hope they are not too late. It is currently available on our Northern Madagascar and the Comores tour, on which other critically endangered species (minimum population estimates in brackets) include Madasgascar Fish-eagle (240 individuals), Anjouan Scops-owl (50), Moheli Scops-owl (260) and Grand Comoro Scops-owl (1300).
Chinese Crested Tern
Almost anything, which is found in lowland China and was formerly already scarce is now in desperate trouble and this elegant tern is one of the worst affected. Down to a lowest population estimate of only 30 mature individuals time is ticking away for this one. Its tiny and declining population faces threats including egg collection, disturbance and the loss of coastal wetlands. It breeds on the Matsu, Fujian and Jiushan Islands of the East China Sea but can be seen along the mainland coast on our Eastern China tour (incidentally Craig Robson was the first to find it on its hitherto unknown wintering grounds while leading our Remote Eastern Indonesia tour). Other frighteningly rare 'critters' (with lowest population estimates in brackets) on our Eastern China tour include Blue-crowned Laughingthrush (50 individuals), Baer's Pochard (150) and Spoon-billed Sandpiper (240).
Endemic to Lake Junin in Central Peru, this will probably be the next grebe to go extinct following Aloatra, Atitlan and Colombian Grebes. Down to as few as possibly 50 individuals, it has undergone significant population declines and although numbers are known to fluctuate with lowest in dry years, recent surveys have suggested a continuing rapid decline. We usually manage to find this critically endangered bird on our Central Peru tour along with White-bellied Cinclodes (50-249 individuals) and Waved Albatross (no estimate but a declining population of 000s).
Great Indian Bustard
Sadly this magnificent bird is a good (or bad) candidate to go extinct in the wild during our lifetime. Once found across India it is now down to a pathetically small lowest estimate of only 50 (that is fifty!!!) individuals. It faces a multitude of threats including habitat loss and degradation, hunting and direct disturbance all of which are basically owing to human population growth. We have never missed it yet but we will not able to say this for ever so if you are collecting the world's bustards or simply want to see this one before it goes we recommend putting it towards the top of your list. Available (for a limited period?) on our Western India tour. Other critically endangered species we regularly see on this tour include Indian Vulture, Sociable Lapwing and Forest Owlet.
This species is classified as critically endangered owing to its extremely small population, which is declining as a result of hunting pressure, however, a new threat comes from deforestation for palm oil. Plenty of hunting of birds still continues, confirmed our most recent visit to São Tomé and given that the lowest population estimate of 50, was as long ago as in 2006, this one is most definitely a case of sooner rather than later. Our São Tomé and Príncipe tour also sees some of the other very smart critically endangered birds of these islands: São Tome Fiscal (1!-49 individuals), São Tomé Grosbeak (1-49 individuals) and Principe Thrush (50-249 individuals).
This striking antpitta is one of the grandest prizes of Neotropical birding and lurked undiscovered in the Andes of Southern Ecuador until as recently as 1997! Its population is estimated to be somewhere between 150 and 700 mature individuals but its breeding habitat along knife-edge ridge forest ridges is very difficult to access. Although it has now been found in Peru, representing a considerable range extension, the habitat between the five locations it is known from is thought to be mostly too low for it to occur so it is likely to have a very small population. We include it here because for the time being breathtaking encounters are available on our Southern Ecuador tour at the Jocotoco Fundacion's Tapaichalaca reserve, where individual birds are habituated to come to food but who knows for how long this wonderful phenomenon will continue?
This 'last of the Big Island of Hawaii's grosbeak-honeycreepers' has suffered extremely rapid annual population declines since 2003. The primary short-term reason for the decline is prolonged drought, which has reduced pod production of the mamane tree, however, other factors include habitat degradation by feral former livestock, predation by introduced cats, and competition for caterpillar food from introduced parasitoid wasps! Palila could be down to as few as 250 individuals but it is also vulnerable to fire during periods of drought. A new threat to the chance to see Hawaii's native forest birds is the recent Rapid Ohia Death (ROD), a fungal infection, which is killing off the habitat of native birds on the Big Island. The forest here consists mostly of only two tree species that many of the birds are dependent on and the outbreak is causing the closure of public sites both here and potentially on the other islands as the Hawaiian Forest Department attempts to halt the spread of the fungus. Hawaii is the world capital of recent bird extinctions and in the critically endangered category and next on the conveyor belt to oblivion are Akekee (310 individuals), Akikiki (150), Akohekoe (3800), Maui Parrotbill (250) and Puaiohi (130). All of these are still possible on our Hawaii tour. However, going in the other direction and back from the dead soon will be Hawaiian Crow, which has been kept going in captivity and will be reintroduced.
Until recently this truly stunning little bird was known from only one location and whilst it has been found at other sites nearby it still has an incredibly small range, where it's favoured habitat is under continuing pressure from agriculture and the development of recreational facilities. It occurs along an escarpment of the Chapada do Araripe in northeast Brazil, in forest near springs - precisely the areas that are also coveted by farmers and developers. The most recent survey in 2014 estimated a population of only 279 males in a decreasing population so its future does not look nearly as bright as the gorgeous bird itself does. We see this little gem on our Northeast Brazil tour.
We have included this bird as it is vulnerable to a peculiar new threat, which is as much a sign of the times as anything else. There is a disturbing trend of intensive trophy hunting of migrant birds in some Middle Eastern countries where the bags of often hundreds of birds are displayed and photos of them posted on social media sites like facebook. Recent studies of the lovely lapwing have shown low adult survival, possibly largely driven by hunting pressure along the migration routes and wintering grounds. Although the most recent estimate is of around 11,200 individuals its population is in very rapid decline and single hunting events of large flocks could make a big dent in these figures. Go see it while you still can on our Oman and Western India tours.