If you have ever woken up to the crowing of a rooster, you will know how priceless the experience is. You might also try to recall how the chirruping of sparrows in the veranda used to make you smile over the morning cup of tea. Birds have always been one of the most majestic creations in Nature. From a tiny hummingbird to the Giant Albatross, they vary widely not only in sizes but also in colours. There are as many as about ten thousand bird species known to mankind. While some like the crow, are found in all parts of the world, some are very specific to their habitat. In recent times, a number of factors, both natural and anthropogenic, have driven such birds to a state of being endangered. Such rare birds even face a threat of extinction in the near future.
10. Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii)
Named after Jared P. Kirtland, a doctor and naturalist, this small songbird is distinguished by its bright yellow breast with black streaks on its sides and a black pointed beak. You hear one singing in the jack pine forests of Michigan or spot one in the Bahamas in the winter season. Global warming is the prime reason behind the habitat destruction of these birds, which have drove them a nearly endangered status. As the jack pines of the Lower Peninsula were destroyed, the warblers found it difficult to move north into the subarctic climate across the Great Lakes. Thus the habitable region of the warblers began shrinking gradually. The breeding sites of the warblers are threatened by the brown-headed cowbird, which lays eggs in the warblers’ nests and removes those of the warbler. Also, the cowbirds predate on the warbler chicks, thus causing a decline in their population. Habitat management and cowbird trapping initiatives taken by the local authorities have however seemed quite helpful in saving these birds.
9. Marvellous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis)
It is a rare species of hummingbird that can be spotted in the Alnus trees and Rubus thickets in only a few regions of north-western Peru. Its name is attributed to its tail feathers, which are highly elongated, ending in spatula-like blue discs. Extensive deforestation for timber and agricultural land has endangered the habitat of these birds. Their population is quite small and they occur in a very limited range of the forests, thus making them quite vulnerable. The males are often hunted by the locals for their hearts, which they believe to possess aphrodisiac properties. This in turn causes the male bird population to fall rapidly, thus threatening their chances of breeding. Various institutions have come up with schemes to save this beautiful bird, which include protection of their habitat and prevention of hunting and international trade of this species.
8. Honduran Emerald (Amazilia luciae)
One of the rarest birds of Central America, the Honduran Emerald belongs to a species of hummingbirds. Distinguished by its vibrant feathers, turquoise throat and breast that appear to glitter and a bronze-coloured tail, this bird is endemic to a small arid thorn-forests of Honduras. As large areas of these forests are rapidly being converted to rice and pineapple plantations, the bird has become endangered due to habitat destruction. Urbanisation has also contributed to the destruction of a large part of its habitat. Most of the available regions have been converted to grazing lands, where these birds suffer a constant threat. In the light of the country’s economy, conservation measures are really very bleak. However, measures have been taken for their preservation in National Parks and suitable habitation zones far from the impact of human threats and modernisation.
7. Scaly-Sided Merganser (Mergus squamatus)
This beautiful sea-duck earns its name from the white feathers on its flanks that are edged and shaped likes the scales of a fish. The bird can be spotted in the temperate regions of East Asia, though they love to spend their winter in the southern regions of China, Japan and Korea. However, their numbers have dwindled over the years due to habitat destruction and perturbation by fishermen, predators and hunters. They are also threatened by river pollution, forest fires, sand mining and riparian vegetation destruction. Various conservation measures, like water pollution control, protection of habitat and increasing the number of safe nesting sites, have been taken to prevent the merganser populations from reaching a critical stage. People have been made aware about the situation and constant monitoring is done so that the bird population increases.
6. Asian Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon)
Commonly known as Toki in Japanese, the crested ibis could be widely spotted in the pine forests of Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Russia. Distinguished by the long red-tipped bill, red facial skin, and the dense white plumes on the crest, the ibis remains one of the most endangered species of birds in the world. Habitat destruction, mostly because of deforestation, and hunting has brought this bird on the brink of extinction. The bird has limited range and the size of its population is quite small, giving rise to low genetic diversity. Destruction of feeding sites due to change in agricultural patterns causes starvation in the winter season, thus threatening the survival of the birds. Extensive captive breeding programs and several conservation initiatives have been adopted by countries like China and Japan which have been functional in saving the bird from extinction. The dwindling population of the Asian crested Ibis, however, continues to be under the category of endangered species.
5. Red-Crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)
Also known as the Manchurian Crane, the red-crowned crane is the largest and one of the rarest crane in East Asia. Distinguished by the bare patch of red skin on the crown and snow-white plumage, these birds inhabit the large temperate wetlands and coastal marshes of China, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula. These cranes are regarded as symbol of luck, longevity and fidelity in some parts of the world. Perhaps that’s why it also features on the official logo of Japan Airlines! The main problem that threatens these birds is the lack of pristine wetlands that can support the bird population. Many of the historic breeding wetlands are getting destroyed by human development, as they expand their agriculture, build roads, channelize the rivers, harvest reed and cut down trees. Pesticides and other chemicals used in crops also kill a lot of these birds through poisoning. Due to their heavy weight and slow flight, they often encounter deadly collisions with the utility lines as well. Conservationists have focussed on the preservation of wetlands as a primary step towards saving this endangered species. Captive breeding in zoos and protection in their own habitat have also been highly functional in the conservation process of these majestic birds.
4. Christmas Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi)
This large black sea-bird, with glossy green feathers on the back is found on Christmas Island in the north-east part of the Indian Ocean. The males can be easily distinguished by their red pouch below their bills, which are used as an attractive display during the mating season. Habitat destruction and predation by humans come a long way in driving this species to a critically endangered status. The phosphate mines in the area have destroyed quite a few of their nesting sites by polluting the region. However, their greatest threat comes from the crazy yellow ant that predates on crabs and other wildlife of the island. Large colonies of young birds have been destroyed over a very short time. Nevertheless, measures have been taken to save the remaining population and increase their numbers through breeding in National Parks.
3. Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti)
This bird is considered critically endangered since they occur in small populations in the forests of central India. It is distinguished by its unspotted crown and densely banded wings and tail. This small bird is unmistakable owing to its square head and strikingly yellow eyes. The bird was considered extinct after it was last spotted in 1883, until Pamela Rasmussen, a prominent American ornithologist, rediscovered it in 1997 in the Satpura Hills. This beautiful owlet is threatened with habitat loss because of deforestation for agricultural lands, over-grazing, and construction of small dams for irrigation purposes. They are also a used as a source of eggs and leather for the local people living in the forests. Strict measures have been taken by the government to save the bird species, which include the provision of sturdy protection for the birds in sanctuaries and increasing awareness among the people about the protection measures.
2. Palila (Loxioides bailleui)
This bird is actually belongs to a species of the Hawaiian honeycreeper, whose bill resembles that of finches. The golden yellow head and breast, white belly and greenish wings and tail, coupled with a soft and sweet voice makes this bird remarkably lovely. One can spot a Palila on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii. This bird faces a critical state of being endangered, which can be attributed to its close ecological relationship with the māmane tree for food and shelter. Prolonged drought, deforestation, habitat degradation due to grazing cattle and predation are the primary reasons behind their dwindling numbers. Since these birds are confined to the regions of māmane forests, it is very crucial to preserve the forests in order to conserve this wonderful species.
1. Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus)
Commonly known as the owl-parrot, this flightless bird of New Zealand is nocturnal and dwells on the ground. It is the heaviest parrot in the world. It can be identified by the beautiful mossy green feathers mottled with brown and yellow, which serve as a camouflage against the forest floor. The bird also has whisker-like feathers around its beak, which help in navigation on ground. From being New Zealand’s one of the most common birds, Kakapo is now a critically endangered species, thanks to the human settlements in the country. Clearing of forests for agriculture and grazing, reckless hunting by the Māori for food, skin and feathers, and predation by weasels, ferrets and stoats have cause the Kakapo to become extinct in most parts of the country. Not only habitation, the Kakapo also suffers from food crisis due to the competition from deer and possums. As a part of a conservation effort, the remaining Kakapo have been removed to islands that are known to be free of predators and human impact.