Colorful songbirds could be traded until extinction

Colorful songbirds could be traded until extinction

Uniquely colored songbirds are in serious danger of extinction, due to their popularity as pets, research has shown.

The pet bird trade in Asia has already driven several species close to extinction, with birds targeted mainly for their beautiful voices.

Now a study has revealed that certain colors of feathers put birds at greater risk of being taken from the wild and sold.

Researchers say that breeding birds in captivity for the trade could help.

“That won’t work for every species,” said lead researcher Professor Rebecca Senior, from Durham University. “But there is hope that we could change the sourcing [of some pet birds] – so they are captive bred rather than caught in the wild.”

Providing the song trade, rather than fighting, may be controversial, but these researchers say it could be a practical way to prevent the loss of species from the wild.

Bird market

Caged birds are sold by the thousands in markets like this one in Jakarta

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, also showed that if the most desirable birds continued to be taken from the wild, the populations left in the tropical forests of Asia would gradually become more “drab”. The most striking, uniquely colored birds are the first to be lost.

To understand the threats to wild birds, Professor Senior and her colleagues took stock of the species – and colors – most commonly bought and sold in Asian song markets.

“​​​​​​​We found that species that had a more unique color – unlike other birds – were more likely to be traded,” she explained.

“And there are certain color categories that tend to be more popular in the trade – azure (sometimes described as sky blue) and yellow. Pure white is also quite common.”

Silent forests, drab

The scientists also imagined the impact of trade – removing the most commonly traded species from the wild population. This showed that the continued trapping of songbirds would result in “more brown and less blue” plumage in the tropical forests of Asia.

In parts of Asia, Indonesia in particular, the impact of the trade has been labeled a conservation crisis. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established a specialist group in an effort to prevent the extinction of species threatened by the trade.

Song ownership is deeply rooted in local Indonesian culture. Bird song competitions are very popular and, at a national level, can offer prizes worth thousands of pounds. Many conservationists are of the opinion that there is no point in fighting the trade.

“Instead of going in all guns blazing and saying, ‘you can’t take these birds that have been an important part of your culture for a long time,'” Professor Senior said, “we could take the endangered species identify and try. to shift sourcing to captive bred birds.

“There’s definitely potential with that to fill the high demand.”

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