Namibia: Habitat Loss Threatens Migratory Birds

The loss and degradation of natural habitats is blamed for threatening migratory birds and pushing these bird species towards possible extinction.

The World Migratory Bird Day 2013 that was celebrated recently highlighted the importance of ecological networks for migratory birds and the need for a greater international response. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the annual migration of an estimated 50 billion birds, which is about 19 percent of the world’s 10 000 bird species, is one of the world’s great natural wonders.

Yet the critical staging areas migratory birds need to complete these journeys are being degraded or are disappearing completely, according to the UN body. These increasingly vulnerable sites, which act as stepping stones on migration routes, serve as a place for the birds to rest, feed and breed during their annual migration cycles.

However, as a result of the degradation, some bird species could be extinct within a decade, while others are facing population losses of up to 9 percent each year. Celebrated annually in over 65 countries on May 11, World Migratory Bird Day highlights the important human networks dedicated to their conservation, the threats migratory birds face, and the need for more international cooperation to conserve them.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon supports the global campaign to raise awareness about the threats to migratory birds from habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution and climate change.

“I call for greater international efforts to restore and preserve migratory birds and the network of sites they need to survive as an important part of the environment on which we all depend,” he said.

Launched in Kenya in 2006, the day is organised by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the UNEP.

Many migratory birds such as cranes, storks, shorebirds and eagles travel thousands of kilometres across flyways that span countries, continents and even the entire globe.

Yet pressures resulting from a growing human population, rapid urbanisation, pollution, climate change and unsustainable use of natural areas are causing the loss, fragmentation and degradation of natural habitats along the birds’ migration routes and threatening their survival.

Stopover sites of international importance for migratory water birds include the Wadden Sea, shared by Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, Banc d’Arguin on the west coast of Mauritania, Bahia de Santa Maria in Mexico and the Saemangeum tidal flat in the Yellow Sea in South Korea.

Migratory water bird species that depend on a network of intertidal habitats along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) are showing rapid decline and are amongst the world’s most-threatened migratory birds.

According to a 2011 report commissioned by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the rates of decline in the region are among the highest of any ecological system in the world. At least 24 water bird species using the flyway are heading towards extinction and many others are facing losses of 5 to 9 percent per year.

According to the IUCN report, species such as the spoon-billed sandpiper could become extinct within a decade. “Migratory birds and the challenges they face in many ways underline the ambition of multilateralism in a globalised world. It is only when countries work together in common cause that the survival and conservation of these species can be ensured,” UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says.

This year, World Migratory Bird Day events were celebrated in countries that share the African-Eurasian Flyways. In Kenya, for instance, a regional event took place on the shores of Lake Elementaita, which is part of the Kenya Lakes System, a network of sites that supports 11 globally threatened bird species.