BirdLife: The Magazine September 2017 - Page 34

GOING SOUTH W e are all familiar with the cautionary tale of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius — once the most abundant species in North America, and possibly the entire world. Numbering well into the billions at the peak of its existence, flocks of Passenger Pigeons flying overhead were likened to deafening hurricanes. It seemed unthinkable that this superabundant bird could go extinct. Yet, it did. Unchecked hunting and the widespread clearance of hard- wood trees, which provided the bulk of its diet, drove a steep decline in numbers in the late 19 th Century. By the time we realised what was hap- pening, it was too late to reverse the decline, and Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon, died in captivity in 1914. This sorry tale serves to remind us that although many birds are classi- fied as Least Concern by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List, if we ignore the warning signs, no species is immune from the threat of extinction. BREAK OUT THE BUNTINGS Widescale, unchecked hunting has, in the space of just three decades, driven frightening declines in two widespread bunting species, on both sides of the Eurasian landmass. Armed with our scientific findings, the BirdLife Partnership is now working to help buntings recover Simba Chan 34 BIRDLIFE • SEPTEMBER 2017 In the mid-1990s, the observed decline of the Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola in Hokkaido, Japan alerted conservationists that another super-abundant species might be in trouble. Now we know it has suffered a huge decline, possibly as much as 95 percent of its population, in the span of just two to three dec- ades. Prior to 200