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Red List changes: Hope and heartbreak for the world’s birds

Red List
Guam Rail is no longer considered extinct in the wild. Photo © Greg Hume (Creative Commons)

Hopeful signs

The 35 bird species whose statuses improved include eight that Red List authorities explain had “genuine improvements” — actual positive changes to their situations. (By contrast, “non-genuine status changes” to the list are due to “new information, improved knowledge of the criteria, incorrect data used previously, taxonomic revision, etc.”)

Perhaps the most head-turning status improvement belongs to the flightless, fast-running Guam Rail. It’s the second bird in history (after the California Condor) to recover after being declared extinct in the wild. Once widespread on the Pacific island of Guam, its numbers declined after the brown tree snake was accidentally introduced at the end of World War II. In 1987, the last wild Guam Rail was killed by the invasive predator. Thanks to a 35-year captive breeding program, the rail is now established on neighboring Cocos Island. However, the bird is still classified as Critically Endangered – one step away from extinction.

Echo Parakeet © Michael Hanselmann

In Mauritius, the Echo Parakeet continues its recovery thanks to conservation efforts, including a highly successful captive breeding program. There are now more than 750 Echo Parakeets in the wild, and with this update the species has been reclassified as Vulnerable, following its improvement from Critically Endangered to Endangered in 2007.

“The recovery of the Guam Rail and Echo Parakeet is fantastic proof of how effective targeted conservation action can be,” said Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator for species at BirdLife International. “However, it is important to remember that not all species can be brought back from the brink, especially if their natural habitat has been destroyed. The priority should always be conserving habitats to prevent declines and extinctions from happening in the first place.”

Black-capped Vireo in Texas. Photo © Nancy Norman

BirdLife also reports genuine improvements for three North American songbirds: Black-capped Vireo and Cerulean Warbler went from Vulnerable to Near Threatened, and Cassin’s Finch changed from Near Threatened to Least Concern.

Conservation actions since the 1980s have helped the vireo rebound in its breeding range of Oklahoma, Texas, and northern Mexico. The warbler has been a bird of concern for many years, but its population decline has slowed in the last decade, leading to its reclassification. Similarly, the finch population isn’t declining as fast as it did a few decades ago.

The other birds exhibiting genuine improvements were Tongan Scrubfowl, Murphy’s Petrel, and Forest Thrush. You can see the full list of status changes for birds in the downloadable PDF below.

Listed here are the Red List totals following this year’s assessment, not just for birds, but also for Earth’s plants, mammals, fishes, reptiles, and other species:

  • Total species assessed = 112,432
  • Total threatened species = 30,178
  • Extinct = 877
  • Extinct in the Wild = 73
  • Critically Endangered = 6,413
  • Endangered = 10,629
  • Vulnerable = 13,136
  • Near Threatened = 6,826
  • Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 192 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the IUCN Red List)
  • Least Concern = 57,931
  • Data Deficient = 16,355

2018 Red List updates: A mixed bag for North American birds 

The world’s smallest flightless bird is related to the Black Rail

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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