A new study on breeding birds in the EU and UK shows one in every six birds over almost 40 years has been lost. Overall, we lost around 600 million breeding birds since 1980.
Massive decreases in the more abundant bird species account for a huge proportion of these lost birds.
House sparrows have been worst hit, losing half of its population since 1980 (247 million birds). Its close relative, the tree sparrow, also lost 30 million birds. Both suffered from changes in farming policy and management but house sparrows in cities also declined. The urban declines may be linked to food shortage, avian malaria or pollution.
The loss of abundant species implies deep damage to the very ecosystems on which humanity depends.
Farmland birds and long distance migrant birds urgently need protecting.
Yellow wagtails lost 97 million birds, starlings decreased 75 million and skylarks saw 68 million fewer individual birds.
Fiona Burns, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist and lead author of the report said: “Our study is a wake-up call to the very real threat of extinctions and of a Silent Spring.
“We need transformative action across society to tackle the nature and climate crises together.”
In the last decade the rate of decline has slowed. In the EU, legal protections are helping birds.
Seven species of birds of prey increased in recent decades following better protections and cutbacks in pesticides and persecution. Without these safeguards, declines in many species would have been much worse.
Last Updated: Friday 3 December 2021