Uniquely colored songbirds are at high risk of extinction as they are in high demand as pets, research shows.
The songbird trade in Asia has already driven several species to near extinction, with birds primarily being targeted for their beautiful voices.
Now a study has shown that certain plumage colors put birds at greater risk of being picked and sold from the wild.
Researchers say breeding birds in captivity for trade could help.
“That won’t work for all species,” said lead researcher Prof. Rebecca Senior of the University of Durham. “But there is hope that we can shift sourcing [of some pet birds] — so they’re captive-bred rather than wild-caught.”
Supplying the songbird trade rather than fighting it can be controversial, but these researchers say it could be a practical way to prevent species from being lost from the wild.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, also found that if the most desirable birds were taken from the wild, the populations left behind in Asia’s tropical forests would gradually “digger.” The most striking, uniquely colored birds would be the first to be lost.
To understand the threats to wild birds, Prof. Senior and her colleagues conducted an inventory of the species — and colors — most commonly bought and sold in Asia’s songbird markets.
“We found that species with a more unique color — something that doesn’t resemble other birds — are more likely to be traded,” she explained.
“And there are certain color categories that are more common in the trade – azure (sometimes described as sky blue) and yellow. Pure white is also very common.”
Quiet, boring forests
The scientists also simulated the impact of trade — removing the most traded species from the wild population. This showed that continued capture of songbirds would result in “more brown and less blue” plumage in the tropical forests of Asia.
In parts of Asia, especially Indonesia, the impact of trade has been labeled a conservation crisis. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has established a specialized group to prevent the extinction of species threatened by trade.
Owning songbirds is deeply rooted in the local culture in Indonesia. Bird song competitions are extremely popular and can bring prizes of tens of thousands of pounds nationally. Many conservationists have concluded that there is no point in fighting the trade.
“Instead of going all out and saying, ‘You can’t take these birds that have been an important part of your culture for so long,'” Prof. Senior said, “we can identify the species that are at risk and try to shift purchasing to captive-bred birds.
“There is certainly potential to meet the high demand.”
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