Five Inspiring Stories of Critically Endangered Bird Species That Were Brought Back

PetMD Editorial
Published: May 23, 2018
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BirdLife International recently published a story called “The Comeback Kids: five birds brought back from the brink,” which details the triumphant wildlife conservation efforts for five different endangered bird species.

As explained on their website, "BirdLife International is a global partnership of conservation organisations (NGOs) that strives to conserve birds, their habits and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. Together we are 121 BirdLife Partners worldwide—one per country or territory—and growing.”

They have nine global programs that target specific wildlife conservation issues, such as climate change, protecting forests, establishing key conservation sites, protecting seabirds and migratory birds, grassroots awareness campaigns, and preventing the extinction of endangered bird species.

In recent years, they have seen the fruition of their hard work with 25 endangered species of birds being saved from the “Critically Endangered” category. Within their article, they highlight the stories of five of the species that are inspiring examples of how humans can work together to implement successful wildlife conservation campaigns.

1. Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina

The Azores Bullfinch resides in the native laurel forest of a Portuguese island. Due to deforestation and invasive plant species, this bird was essentially starving. In 2005, BirdLife International says, “it held the ignominious title of Europe’s most threatened bird.”


The Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA)—a BirdLife Partner—took action and headed a restoration campaign that recovered 300 hectares of native laurel forest. This restoration of the Azores Bullfinch’s habitat allowed their population to grow, and in 2010, they moved from the “Critically Endangered” to the “Endangered” category. In 2016, they successfully restored enough of the population to move them to the “Vulnerable” category.


2. Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis

Found in Ecuador and Colombia, the Yellow-eared Parrot was thought to have disappeared altogether by the 1990s due to the deforestation of their habitats, the Quindo Wax Palm. But, in 1999, 81 of these endangered birds were discovered in a very remote area of the Colombian Andes.


Large-scale wildlife conservation efforts were then launched to protect the birds and help their populations grow. They orchestrated an entire publicity campaign to spread awareness about the Yellow-eared parrot and engage the population in conservation efforts. BirdLife Internationals says, “Backed by popular support, local organisations were able to install nest boxes, plant trees and promote sustainable alternatives to the problem palm. The Yellow-eared Parrot’s population is now 1000-strong and growing.”


3. Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor

The wildlife conservation efforts for this endangered bird species were a bit more complicated due to its migratory status. The Black-faced Spoonbill calls the intertidal mudflat habitats across the whole of East Asia its home. So to be successful at reviving their population, BirdLife International and their partners had to create a coordinated effort.


BirdLife International explains, “That’s why China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan united in a single action plan for the species, turning many of its key breeding grounds and overwintering sites into protected areas. And it worked. Safe havens have allowed the population to grow from a tenuous 300 to a secure 4,000.”


4. Asian Crested Ibis Nipponia nippon

The Asian Crested Ibis’ story is truly impressive. The odds were really against this endangered bird species, with their breeding grounds in the Russian Far East, Japan and China being decimated by human activity. The agricultural pesticide practices also poisoned and depleted their food sources (e.g., frogs, fish and invertebrates within the rice paddies). In conjunction with hunting, this bird seemingly did not stand a chance. As BirdLife International explains, “By 1981, a population of only seven birds was found in China, and the last five birds in Japan were taken into captivity.”


With so many factors contributing to their demise, a multi-pronged wildlife conservation plan was set into motion. BirdLife International says, “In the wild, logging, agrochemicals and hunting were prohibited in the bird’s range. Nest sites even got their own personal bodyguard during the breeding season. Emergency captive breeding programmes began in China, and the offspring were quickly released in prime ibis habitats.” Their admirable efforts were not in vain—the Asian Crested Ibis’ population is growing, and there are now over 500 individuals in the wild. This endangered bird species has also been successfully reintroduced in Japan, and there are plans to do the same in South Korea.


5. Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari

The Lear’s Macaw was essentially considered a captive pet throughout the years. BirdLife International explains, “By the time the wild populations were found, it was clear that the unregulated wildlife trade had sent them into freefall: by 1983 there were just 60 Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari left.” Due to the wildlife trade and loss of their semi-desert habitats to farming, the Lear’s Macaw population was dwindling, and fast. CITES (the wildlife trade convention) intervened to combat the wildlife trading of the species, but it was clear that more extensive measures were needed.


To help, a whole group of wildlife conservation organizations joined together to protect this endangered species. These organizations launched campaigns to protect the Lear Macaw’s habitat, educate local communities and institute strong anti-hunting legislature and ensure that it was being strongly enforced. Due to their efforts, the current population of Lear’s Macaw has been documented at 1,294 individuals.

Image via Shutterstock

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