Exploitation of birds has become unsustainable

Humans have harvested and traded birds since time immemorial: for food, as pets, for cultural purposes and for sport. This use of nature is fundamental to the economies and cultures of many nations. Wild meat is not only a vital source of protein, but also generates valuable income for rural populations. However, expanding markets and increasing demand, combined with improved access and techniques for capture, are causing the exploitation of many species beyond sustainable levels. Over the last few decades, more than one-quarter of the world's bird species have been recorded in international trade, with millions of individual birds traded each year.

In all, 345 Globally Threatened Birds (GTBs; nearly 30%) are currently threatened by over-exploitation for human use, primarily through hunting for food (262 species) and trapping for the cage-bird trade (117 species). Often these are large and conspicuous species, such as cranes and storks. Some families are particularly affected, with more than 10% of their species threatened by overexploitation. Large numbers are at risk in some cases, e.g. 52 species of parrots and 44 species each of pigeons and pheasants (see figure). Other families, notably waterfowl, birds of prey and rails, are also heavily hunted, although smaller proportions are affected overall.

SOURCE Analysis of data held in BirdLife's World Bird Database.

Large numbers of parrots, pigeons and pheasants are threatened by over-exploitation

Only families with 15 or more species included; % of total number of species affected given above each bar, total number of species in each family given below

SOURCE Analysis of data held in BirdLife's World Bird Database.

Large numbers of parrots, pigeons and pheasants are threatened by over-exploitation

Only families with 15 or more species included; % of total number of species affected given above each bar, total number of species in each family given below

Parrots Pigeons, 388 doves 327

Pheasants, quails, francolins 195

Ducks, geese, swans 170

guans 53

Hawks, eagles

Rails 160

Hornbills Megapodes Cranes 57 21 15

Parrots Pigeons, 388 doves 327

Pheasants, quails, francolins 195

Ducks, geese, swans 170

guans 53

Hawks, eagles

Rails 160

Hornbills Megapodes Cranes 57 21 15

Over-exploitation has already caused extinctions

Humans have already driven formerly numerous species to extinction through over-exploitation. An example is the Great Auk, once widely distributed across the North Atlantic, which was hunted for its feathers, meat, fat and oil, with specimen collecting the final cause of its extinction in about 1852. Another is the Carolina Parakeet, once wideranging and very common in the eastern USA, which was hunted for food, crop protection and the millinery trade, with the last captive bird dying in 1915. Overall, 50 species that have become extinct since 1500 (c.40% of the total) have been subject to over-harvesting.

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