Diagnosing population declines of globally threatened species overseas

The RSPB works with BirdLife and others partners around the world to halt and reverse declines of some of the most threatened birds on the planet.

Henderson Rail


Many bird species around the world are threatened with extinction. For some species the causes of population decline are obvious, but for many species the cause is cryptic and complex. RSPB scientists work around the globe with local BirdLife partners and practitioners to identify the key problems facing some of the most threatened bird species of the world.

Through a variety of projects, we study why species decline, examine how certain threats affect a population and ultimately develop solutions to mitigate these threats.

This work includes a broad range of species and threats. These include: veterinary drugs that threatening Asia's vulture populations; invasive rats and mice which eat island-native birds and habitat loss or alteration which affects species ranging from the spoon-billed sandpiper to the Egyptian vulture to the St Helena plover.

Occasionally, this work encounters rather unusual natural threats, such as an erupting volcano threatening the forests on Montserrat - the only place in the world where the Montserrat oriole lives.


Over the past 20 years massive progress has been achieved:

  • We identified the veterinary drug diclofenac as the cause of the  collapse of South Asia's vulture populations and another veterinary drug meloxicam as a vulture-safe alternative to diclofenac.
  • We identified invasive rodents and cats as key threats to birds on the islands of Gough, Henderson and St Helena. We developed solutions to eliminate those threats.
  • We started a successful conservation breeding programme for spoon-billed sandpipers on their Russian nesting grounds, tracked these enigmatic birds to identify key stopover and wintering areas and produced the first robust global population estimate.
  • We tested nest guarding and supplementary feeding approaches for vultures and tracked many birds to understand the geographic scope over which they are exposed to threats.

Planned Work

We will continue to engage with international partners to identify threats and develop management strategies to save some of the world's most threatened species from extinction.

This will include:
  • Identifying the key wintering and stopover areas for spoon-billed sandpipers and Egyptian vultures
  • Safety testing veterinary drugs used in South Asia
  • Developing effective strategies to reduce or remove harmful invasive species from islands.

Once management has taken effect, or threats have subsided naturally (as with the case of the volcano on Montserrat), we will continue to regularly monitor populations and threats to ensure there are no further declines.

Ultimately, our science informs effective conservation. The biggest objectives in the near future are the eradication of rodents from Gough and Henderson, the establishment of vulture-safe zones in India and Nepal and various habitat restoration projects to help struggling migratory birds along their flyway.


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Toby Galligan

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Guy Anderson

UK Migrants Programme Manager, Nature Recovery

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Steffen Oppel

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

Tagged with: Country: Bulgaria Country: Chad Country: China Country: Ethiopia Country: Greece Country: India Country: Macedonia Former Yugoslav Rep Country: Myanmar Country: Nepal Country: Niger Country: Nigeria Country: Russian Federation Country: Sudan Country: Thailand Country: Turkey Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Marine and intertidal Habitat: Wetland Habitat: Woodland Species: Henderson crake Species: Henderson petrel Species: Henderson reed-warbler Species: Montserrat oriole Species: St. Helena plover Species: Tristan albatross Project status: Project types: Research