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Not the usual suspects: unexpected challenges and novel approaches in bird conservation research

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

10 August, 2023

By Nico Arcilla and Māris Strazds

Northern White-faced Owl (Ptilopsis leucotis) rescued and released after being ensnared by a non-native palm; invasive plants may pose myriad threats to birds and are poorly understood compared to other bird conservation problems. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


Birds contend with a range of human impacts, including habitat change, overexploitation, invasive alien species, pollution and environmental contaminants, and climate change, which together comprise the five major drivers of biodiversity decline recognized by the UN’s Convention on Biodiversity. However, within and in addition to these five major threats, there are a number of challenges to bird conservation that are often overlooked, but demand investigation and interventions. IBCP will co-convene a symposium on August 23rd , 2023, at the upcoming European Ornithologists’ Union congress in Lund, Sweden, to discuss such novel conservation challenges and approaches

Hydroelectric power projects alter riparian habitat in ways that undermine the reproductive success of birds such as the Black Stork. Photo courtesy of Māris Strazds.


“Green” energy projects using new technologies and materials, for example, may create ecological traps that cause bird mortality or drive habitat destruction that lowers reproductive success. Well-known examples include wind farms killing large numbers of raptors, but less familiar instances include solar panels creating “lake effect” illusions that can result in waterbird mortality, and hydroelectric power projects altering riparian habitat in ways that undermine birds’ reproductive success, e.g., the Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) in Europe. Reintroductions of formerly endangered species may also have unintended negative impacts, such as in the case of bird declines correlated with Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and American bison (Bison bison) reintroductions in North America.

Endangered Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) carcasses are offered for sale at the fetish market in Lomé, Togo, despite this species being having reported as extinct in this region. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


In Africa and Asia, new and expanding markets for birds used in traditional medicine and

magic as well as ornaments and in singing competitions is threatening to drive declines and

extinctions of hornbills (Bucerotidae), Old World vultures (Accipitridae) and white-eyes

(Zosteropidae) among many other avian taxa. What do we know about these problems and the magnitudes of their impacts on birds, and what do we need to investigate? What can be done or is being done to quantify the extent of such problems and to test effective solutions? In this symposium, we will present recent research on overlooked and/or underestimated threats to bird conservation and evaluate actual and potential solutions to date. Speakers will make the following presentations:

  • Not the usual suspects: a global review of unconventional challenges and approaches in bird conservation research – Nico Arcilla

  • “Green” hydroelectric dams and the plight of Black Storks in Latvia – Māris Strazds

  • The fetish market of Lomé, Togo: an alarming hotspot for the international trade of both common and globally threatened bird species – Olivier Boissier

  • Conservation of birds traded in East Asia: the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in citizen science monitoring – Shan Su

  • A major myna problem; invasive predator removal benefits female survival and population growth of a translocated island endemic – Thomas Brown

The demand for white-eyes (Zosterops spp.) for use in singing competitions drives a massive trade in these species, some of which are listed as endangered, in East and Southeast Asia. Photo by Shan Su.


Our symposium will address subjects including: unintended negative consequences of “green” energy projects and species reintroductions for birds, bird declines related to lesser-known aspects of the international wildlife trade, successes and failures in mitigating bird mortality resulting from anthropogenic collisions, and how differing national strategies in managing free-ranging cats, dogs, and livestock have different consequences for bird conservation. How can we manage reintroductions of native species as well as domestic and invasive species to ensure they do not negatively affect native species? What progress has been made in addressing major sources of bird mortality that are nonetheless “off the radar” of many conservation programs, such as glass windows and domestic animals? What novel or potential solutions might we apply to improve the conservation of birds affected by the international wildlife trade and related problems, such as new technologies and citizen science? We will conclude our review with recommendations for future directions in conservation research and applications.

Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) are native to southern Asia but have been introduced to many oceanic islands, where they may threaten native avifauna. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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