The sparrow population in Europe is declining by 247m | Birds

There are 247 million fewer sparrows in Europe than there were in 1980, and other once ubiquitous bird species have suffered a huge decline, according to a new study.

One in six birds – a net loss of 600 million breeding birds in total – has disappeared in less than four decades. Among the common species that disappear from the sky are yellow wagtails (97 m less), starlings (75 m less) and larks (68 m less).

The study conducted by researchers from RSPB, BirdLife International and the Czech Society for Ornithology analyzed data for 378 out of 445 bird species native to EU and UK countries and found that the total number of breeding birds decreased by between 17% and 19% between 1980 and 2017 .

The overall and proportional decline in the number of birds is particularly high among species associated with agricultural land.

The sparrow is hardest hit and has lost half of its population, while its close relative, the wood sparrow, has seen a decline of 30 million birds. Both species have declined due to changing farming methods, but sparrows have also disappeared from many cities for reasons not yet established but which are likely to include food shortages, diseases such as bird malaria and air pollution.

Long-distance migrants, such as the yellow wagtail, have declined proportionately more than other groups. Photo: Andy Hay / RSPB / PA

While intensifying agriculture, causing habitat loss and chemical farming triggering large declines in insects feeding many birds is a cause of many population declines, long-distance migrants, such as arrowheads and yellow wagtails, have declined proportionately more than other groups. Coastal birds such as vultures and young have also collapsed.

“Our study is a wake-up call to the very real threat of extinction and a quiet spring,” said Fiona Burns, lead author of the study and a senior conservation researcher for RSPB.

Burns said next year’s meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was crucial to creating a strong framework to prevent extinction and regain the lost abundance of many species.

She added: “We need transformative action across society to tackle the nature and climate crises together. This means increasing the scope and ambitions for nature-friendly agriculture, species protection, sustainable forestry and fisheries and a rapid expansion of the protected area network.”

While 900 million birds disappeared in total, 203 of the 378 species studied increased in number. 66 percent of the 340 million extra birds were from just eight flowering species: black hat, chiffchaff, sun black, wren, goldfinch, redhead, wood pigeon and blue tit.

The number of 11 species of birds of prey has more than doubled since 1980, including peregrine falcons, marsh hawks, buzzards, sea eagles and golden eagles, although such species are relatively rare and therefore their populations are still mostly small.

A mousetrap lands on a field
Eleven birds of prey have more than doubled since 1980, including the buzzard. Photo: Edo Schmidt / Alamy

Researchers say these birds of prey have benefited from increased protection and reduction of harmful pesticides and persecution, as well as specific species recovery projects. The EU Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive have also provided legal protection for priority species and habitats that have been shown to benefit bird species.

While the decline in many species has slowed in the last decade, the declines are not just a hangover from previous decades’ harmful practices, and the study supports previous research revealing significant recent losses in biodiversity.

The extent of losses and types of birds disappearing can be compared to declines in North America, where 3 billion birds were found to have disappeared since 1970.

Anna Staneva, interim head of conservation at BirdLife Europe, said: “This report shows loud and clear that nature is sounding the alarm. Although the protection of birds that are already rare or endangered has resulted in some successful recoveries, it does not see appears to be sufficient to sustain the populations of abundant species.

“Ordinary birds are becoming less and less common, mainly because the spaces they depend on are being wiped out by humans. Nature has been exterminated from our agricultural land, seas and cities. Governments across Europe must set legally binding targets for nature restoration. Otherwise, the consequences are serious, even for our own species. “

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