The rainforests of South America are a little lonelier now, with the highly likely or confirmed extinction of eight bird species.
According to a statistical analysis conducted by BirdLife International and published in the journal Biological Conservation, five of the eight likely extinctions occurred in South America, the result of deforestation. This bucks the trend of small-island birds going extinct due to invasive species or hunting.
"People think of extinctions and think of the dodo, but our analysis shows that extinctions are continuing and accelerating today," Stuary Butchart, the chief scientist for BirdLife International, told The Guardian. "Historically 90 percent of bird extinctions have been small populations on remote islands. Our evidence shows there is a growing wave of extinctions washing over the [South American] continent driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging."
No longer taking to the skies
BirdLife conducted an eight-year study of 51 critically endangered bird species, weighing three factors: intensity of threats, timing and reliability of records and the timing and quantity of search efforts for the species. They then applied this approach to those species and concluded that their methods not only aligned with the status of many birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List, but that some of those birds needed to be reclassified as extinct.
The reclassification of those birds was pending based on the outcome of the BirdLife study. Three of the species were deemed extinct, one extinct in the wild and the remaining four are either incredibly close to extinct if they aren't already.
The three species that were deemed extinct were the the Brazilian cryptic treehunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti), the Brazilian alagoas foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaesi) and the Hawaiian black-faced honeycreeper (Melamprosops phaeosoma), also known as the poo-uli. These species were last seen in 2007, 2011 and 2004, respectively.
The Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) was classified as being extinct in the wild. The bird was featured in the 2011 animated film "Rio." That movie chronicled the story of two fictional macaws, one captive and one wild, breeding together in an effort to save the species (but in a family-friendly way). BirdLife's study indicates that the species like went extinct in the wild around 2000, making the plot of "Rio" a little bit late. Only 70 individuals exist in captivity. (It's worth noting that the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots has been working to bring the bird back from extinction in the wild in the Caatinga Region of Brazil through the Spix's Macaw De-Extinction Project.)
BirdLife has recommended that the remaining birds — the glaucous macaw (Anodorhynchus glaucus), the Pernambuco pygmy owl (Glaucidium mooreorum), the New Caledonian lorikeet (Charmosyna diadema) and the Javan lapwing (Vanellus macropterus) — be reclassified as critically endangered (possibly extinct) as none of them has been seen since before 2001.
This classification is considered an extremely cautious one, according to Butchart, since it basically means the birds are extinct. However, classifying the birds as extinct could lead to conservation efforts being abandoned, something that could hasten the birds' demise.
"We've got limited conservation resources so we need to spend these wisely and effectively. If some of these species have gone, we need to redirect these resources to those that remain," Butchart told The Guardian.
"Obviously it's too late to help some of these iconic species but because we know birds better than any other taxonomic class, we know which other species are most at risk. We hope this study will inspire a redoubling of efforts to prevent other extinctions."