divendres, 9 d’octubre de 2009

Solving the mysteries of migratory bird declines

Photo: Kim Taylor / Nature Picture


The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), have joined forces and are working with BirdLife Partners in Ghana (Ghana Wildlife Society), Burkina Faso (Naturama), the Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland) and Denmark (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening) to mount the largest research project of its type to understand more about migratory birds that spend the non-breeding season south of the Sahara desert.

Some of the greatest declines of birds in the UK are among migratory songbirds such as Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur, Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata. These species breeding in Europe and migrate to sub-Saharan Africa.

Recent figures suggest that more than 40 per cent of all migratory species passing between Europe and Africa have declined in the last three decades. Alarmingly, one in 10 of these are classified by BirdLife as Globally Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

The project will involve researchers monitoring birds along a corridor stretching from Ghana’s Atlantic coast to northern Burkina Faso, spanning a range of habitats from coastal rainforest to the edge of the Sahara desert.

“These birds face many threats during their incredible annual journeys”, said Dr Erasmus Owusu - Executive Director of Ghana Wildlife Society. “BirdLife and its Partners are working to provide a safer journey for migratory birds”.

“The drastic declines of some of our best-loved summer-visiting birds, such as the cuckoo, turtle dove and nightingale, is one of the greatest concerns currently raging in conservation”, said Dr Danaë Sheehan – RSPB Research Ecologist. “Although we have a reasonable understanding of these birds in the UK, we have little or no idea what's happening to these birds in their wintering grounds, but it’s clear that without help these declines are likely to continue, reducing the populations of these summer visitors to dangerously low levels”.

A number of potential causes for the declines of migrants have been suggested, including: climate change, changes in rainfall patterns, and land degradation. Predicted increases in human population and climatic variability in West Africa are likely to exacerbate these threats.

“If we are to reverse these alarming declines we need to act now”, commented Dr Chris Hewson - Research Ecologist at the BTO. “To do this we need to better understand where these birds spend the winter months and what pressures they face there. If we can find this out we will be in a strong position to help secure their future”.

The team of researchers will be counting and ringing birds at locations in Ghana and Burkina Faso, across a breadth of habitats, from dense tropical rainforest to semi-desert. By recording birds at these points several times during the year, researchers hope to build up a detailed picture of the movements and habitat preferences of European migratory birds wintering in Africa.

In response to worrying declines of many migratory species, BirdLife has launched the Born to Travel Campaign to protect migratory birds along the African-Eurasian flyway. “Naturama are one of over 70 BirdLife Partners across the migration routes between Europe, the Middle East and Africa who are working together to tackle threats to migratory songbirds like agricultural intensification, desertification, deforestation and climate change”, concluded Georges Oueda - Director of Conservation at Naturama.
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