Extinction is a natural part of evolution and happens for many reasons, but birders can be part of responsible environmental stewardship and take steps to minimize the risk of more bird species going unnecessarily extinct. While our world is changing and not all birds are able to change along with it, understanding the causes of extinction and how to help birds overcome those hazards is a great way to promote bird conservation before more species vanish.
Why Birds Go Extinct
Bird species go extinct for a wide range of reasons, including:
- Habitat loss through development, natural disasters, climate change, etc.
- Food loss through competition from other species or loss of food sources
- Hunting and poaching, as well as invasive predators and egg collecting
- Toxic poisoning that may be fatal or could devastate breeding success
- Lack of individual adaptability to changing circumstances, range changes, etc.
In some cases, the loss of a complete bird species may be inevitable because they are too sensitive to rapid changes that cannot be reversed in time to recover, while in other cases simple changes and help from conservation initiatives could lead to population recoveries.
How to Reduce Extinction Risks
There are many ways that birders taking the smallest steps can help reduce the risk of extinction, and the more birders who take those steps, the larger the overall impact will be and the more bird species will benefit.
- Be Aware of Endangered Species: Of the nearly 10,000 bird species in the world, more than 10 percent are officially classified as threatened or endangered. Understanding how many birds are at risk to become extinct is the first step toward raising awareness of how to lower the risks of extinction for the birds that need the most intervention and conservation help.
- Support Bird Conservation Programs: Supporting conservation programs and projects is the most immediate way to help reduce the risk of bird extinctions. Many zoos and aviaries work with captive breeding programs for endangered birds, and visiting the facilities helps fund their work. Joining a birding organization also helps support conservation work, or making donations to conservation groups, bird rescue organizations or wildlife rehabilitators can be useful.
- Protect Diverse Bird Habitats: The more habitat there is available for wild birds, the better they will be able to survive. All types of wild habitat are useful, and simply creating a bird-friendly backyard can provide critical habitat for local species. Other ways to preserve habitats include visiting wildlife refuges, purchasing duck stamps, helping with beach or river cleanups and encouraging native landscaping in parks and other cultivated areas.
- Be a Responsible Birder: First and foremost, birders can always minimize extinction risks by putting birds' best interests above their own. That means always following proper birding ethics, including bird photography ethics, and being considerate of other species at all times. Avoid any behavior that may stress birds, and take steps to keep birds safe. This includes backyard birding and being a responsible bird feeder, keeping pet cats indoors and ensuring that a backyard habitat is just as safe and welcoming as any larger refuge.
- Share Your Love of Birding: Introducing more people to birds and birding is an exceptional way to minimize the risk of future extinctions, because the more people who are involved in protecting birds, the greater and more effective those protections will be. Be patient with new birders, get involved with birding festivals, introduce birding to children and take other steps to raise awareness about birds and the hazards they face.
- Curb Artificial Risks to Birds: While natural evolution will inevitably lead to some bird extinctions, the negative impact of artificial threats cannot be overestimated. Invasive predators, fishing line, balloons, wind farms, litter and even holiday decorations can all be grave threats to birds, but there are easy steps every birder can take to reduce those risks dramatically.
- Live in Balance With the Planet: Birders don't have to join communes, become vegan or forsake all material possessions to help prevent bird extinctions (though admittedly, all those steps can help), but conscientiously recycling, reducing one's carbon footprint and taking other steps to conserve all natural resources are great ways to minimize extinction threats. Being a green birder is easy, and it helps keep the entire environment safe for birds and other wildlife.
Extinctions Will Still Happen
Even with the best efforts, extinctions will still happen and some bird species will still be lost in the future. That doesn't mean it isn't worth the time or trouble to help minimize those risks, and every responsible change that birders and other wildlife lovers make will benefit a wide range of species and preserve our planet's biodiversity for many generations to come.
Photo – Passenger Pigeon (Museum Mount) © Eden, Janine and Jim