Posts Tagged ‘Endangered Species Act’

Five Rare South American Bird Species Given U.S. Endangered Status

December 2, 2013

From The Center for Biological Diversity |

SAN FRANCISCO— In response to decades-old listing petitions and a series of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated four rare bird species from Colombia (the blue-billed curassow, brown-banded antpitta, Cauca guan and gorgeted wood-quail) and one Ecuadorian hummingbird species (Esmeraldas woodstar) as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“Protecting these vulnerable tropical birds under the Endangered Species Act will give them a better shot at survival and attract attention to the urgent need to protect their remaining forest homes,” said Jeff Miller, a Center conservation advocate. “Tropical deforestation is threatening to drive so many of the planet’s most amazing birds extinct.”

A campaign to protect scores of the world’s most imperiled bird species began in the 1980s, when worried ornithologists began submitting Endangered Species Act petitions to protect more than 70 international bird species. Although the Fish and Wildlife Service had determined by 1994 that most of the species warranted protection, the agency never responded to the listing petitions. After a quarter-century, legal protection had been provided for only a handful of the species, and at least five of the 73 had gone extinct.

The Center filed lawsuits in 2004 and 2006 that jump-started the foreign-species listing program. The Service then determined that more than 50 of the bird species warranted listing. So far 36 of the bird species have been protected as endangered or threatened.
Listing international species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricts buying and selling of the imperiled animals, increases conservation funding and attention, and can add scrutiny to development projects proposed by U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies — such as the World Bank — that would destroy or alter habitat.


The blue-billed curassow (Crax alberti) is the world’s most threatened species of cracid, a family of beautiful crested game birds found primarily in Latin America. This large, mainly black bird is the only curassow with distinctive blue bill ornaments, earning the species its common name. Very little is known about this bird in the wild due to its rarity; while at one time its range stretched 41,000 square miles, it’s now restricted to only a fragmented, 806-square-mile forest area in northern Colombia. It has been severely hurt by a rapid increase in deforestation over the past decade through agriculture and other industries. About 98 percent to 99 percent of this amazing bird’s habitat has been lost, and there are thought to be fewer than 2,000 individuals left.

The brown-banded antpitta (Grallaria milleri), like other antpittas, is a secretive bird with a low population density and high habitat specificity — a nearly flightless, ground-dwelling species found only in the Neotropics. This antpitta, endemic to the central Andes of Colombia, has been severely harmed by a rapid increase in deforestation due to agriculture and human encroachment. In 1992 researchers considered it locally extinct, if not extinct throughout its range. Although it was rediscovered in 1994, there are thought to be only a few hundred brown-banded antpittas remaining in four isolated populations.

The Cauca guan (Penelope perspicax) is a rare forest bird found only on the west slopes of the west and central Andes of Colombia. This large, mainly brown-gray bird is similar in appearance to a turkey, thanks to its thin neck and small head with a dewlap — a flap of skin that hangs beneath the lower jaw or neck. The Cauca guan requires large territories for foraging, but today it’s relegated mainly to small patches of forest, since most of its preferred dry-forest habitat has been eliminated and is highly fragmented. The species’ range has been reduced by 95 percent since the 1950s as a result of agriculture production and human settlement. Historically, this magnificent bird was considered common; now it is thought that only 250 to 1,000 Cauca guans are in existence.

The gorgeted wood-quail (Odontophorus strophium) is a small, secretive, ground-dwelling bird endemic to montane subtropical forests on the west slope of the eastern Andes, in the Magdalena Valley of Colombia. The species has declined due to deforestation from logging, conversion of forests to agriculture, coca growing and drug eradication efforts using herbicides. Fewer than 500 of these ‘‘forest partridges’’ are now believed to remain, in fragmented habitats.

The Esmeraldas woodstar (Chaetocercus berlepschi) is a tiny, mysterious hummingbird with striking violet, green and white plumage, endemic to Ecuador. Little is known about this range-restricted, forest species, as it seems to disappear from known locations during nonbreeding months. Its preferred evergreen forest environment is one of the most threatened forest habitats in the Neotropics. The remaining habitat for the species has been reduced by 99 percent and is severely fragmented due to rapid deforestation as a result of logging and agriculture clearance. The Esmeraldas woodstar was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1990 — after not being sighted since 1912.

Read about the Center’s International Birds Initiative.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


Piping Plovers v. Feral Cats

November 17, 2007

By now you probably have heard about the criminal trial in Galveston, Texas in which the founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society was indicted and tried for shooting a stray cat that was about to kill a Piping Plover. pipingplover01.jpgThe jury deadlocked yesterday with 8 members in favor of convicting and 4 against. The District Attorney must now decide whether to try the case again. [1]If convicted, the birder could get up to two years in prison. Texas now outlaws the killing of any cat; but, at the time of the shooting, it was only illegal to kill a cat that belonged to somebody else. The deceased lived under a bridge in Galveston and the maintenance man there fed and named the cat although he had not purchased it; it did not live with him and he did not have it vaccinated.

No one knows how many feral cats there are in the United States. Somewhere between 60 million and 100 million. We do know about how many Piping Plovers are left. About 6,000. In the entire world. They are on the Endangered Species Act. The plovers are native to North America, the cats aren’t. Cats are an exotic species in North America brought and kept here by humans. Plovers are ground nesters and defenseless; having evolved in a North America free of cats.

The case caused an eruption among animal activists who are against killing feral cats. Wait. Before you birders stop reading, we’re going to say a couple of nice things about those people. They make two serious arguments, one of which is undeniably correct. And they profess to have pretty much the same goals as birders: the humane elimination of outdoor cat populations.

For instance, Alley Cats Allies, “. . . is dedicated to advocating for nonlethal methods to reduce outdoor cat populations.” The folks at Feral Cat Network believe:

the safest place for domestic cats is indoors; cats who are lucky enough to have a home should be kept strictly indoors. However, because of the overpopulation crisis, there are not enough available homes. The next best thing for homeless feral domestic cats born outdoors is a managed colony where food, water, shelter, and medical care are consistently provided.

Their first argument is: “Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the only humane, effective method to reduce their [feral cats] population.” They believe that an adequately funded program to trap all feral cats, neuter them and return them to their homeless outdoors will end feral cat colonies.

Science disagrees. Such programs have been studied in at least two Florida counties and one California program invested $9.5 million in managed cat colonies. Scientific studies demonstrated that less than five percent of feral cats were trapped and neutered. In the meantime, all the rest were doing what cats do, breeding. Cats, especially in warmer climates, breed year around; producing six to eighteen kittens each. For TNR to work, we would have to grab 60 to 100 million cats and neuter them all on the same day.

But feral cat lovers also argue – correctly – that the biggest single cause of the precipitous decline in bird populations isn’t cats, it is humans destroying bird habitats. If you don’t believe them, just look at this range map. piping_plover_na.gifPlovers used to live all over North America.

The Alleycats put the best face on this argument:

Considering the vast scale of human destruction of bird habitat, arguing about “cats-versus-birds” trivializes the critical issues facing bird populations today. Cat lovers and bird lovers can agree: the real danger to birds is humans.

The problem for the cats with this argument is that it overlooks the salient fact that the cats are a part of the human destruction of habitat. If Western Europeans had not colonized North America there would be no cats here in the first place. Not only are the cats killing the birds – and cats kill even when they are not hungry and do not eat their kill – they also kill other prey species which makes it harder for the birds to get enough calories.

Humans created this problem; it is up to us to fix it. Just because cats don’t kill as many birds as humans is no reason not to stop what killing we can. Nor should we overlook the fact that feral cats live short, brutish lives. No one argues that the status quo should continue. The status quo is not humane.

We should also note that feral cat organizations believe with birders that cats are lovely INDOOR pets which should stay indoors. Much of the feral cat population problem can be laid at the doorstep of lazy cat owners who let their cats roam free, do not neuter them and – in some instances – simply abandon them and their kittens.

The question is what can we do? Obviously one shooter in Galveston can’t kill 60 million cats. Especially if he is in jail for killing just one of them.


[1] We wonder: Of all the tourists who travel to Galveston each year and collectively spend millions and millions of dollars in the local economy, how many go to see the birds and how many go to see the feral cats? Perhaps Galveston’s District Attorney has decided not to continue a career in elective office? Why re-prosecute this case? Another hung jury is the most likely outcome. We doubt that local businesses are thrilled about his decision to prosecute this case amid national publicity and ridicule. It is not easy to irritate a birder but once you do, your tourism industry is in trouble.

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