We have lost over 150 bird species since 1500

The last Poo-uli (from Hawaii) died in captivity in 2004, © US Fish and Wildlife Service

A total of 182 bird species are believed to have become extinct since 1500. Avian extinctions are continuing, with 19 species lost in the last quarter of the twentieth century and four more known or suspected to have gone extinct since 2000. The rate of extinctions on continents appears to be increasing, principally as a result of extensive and expanding habitat destruction.

Number of bird species extinctions per 25 years, by continents and islands
Totals include bird species classified as Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) and Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild). Analysis of data held in BirdLife’s World Bird Database (2016).

Extinctions have probably been better documented for birds than any other group of animals. In total, 161 bird species have been classified as extinct since 1500. This includes five species that have gone extinct in the wild, but that still have populations remaining in captivity. A number of other species currently categorised as Critically Endangered have probably gone extinct too, but cannot be designated as such until we are certain (Butchart et al. 2006). A total of 21 such species are categorised as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). Thus, a total of 182 bird species may have been lost in the last 500 years.

Extinctions are continuing: 19 species were lost in the last quarter of the 20th century, and three species are known or suspected to have gone extinct since 2000. The last known individual of Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii (classified as Critically Endangered: Possibly Extinct in the Wild) disappeared in Brazil towards the end of 2000, the last two known individuals of Hawaiian Crow Corvus hawaiiensis (classified as Extinct in the Wild) disappeared in June 2002 and Po’ouli Melamprosops phaeosoma, also from the Hawaiian Islands, was listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) after the last known individual died in captivity in November 2004.

Although most bird species (>80% 88.41%) live on continents (Johnson and Stattersfield 1990), the majority of extinctions (92%) have been on islands. Often, these resulted from the introduction of invasive alien species such as cats, rats and goats, which either preyed upon the native species or degraded its habitat (BirdLife International 2008). However, continental species have been far from immune, and those going extinct often originally had extensive ranges. The wave of extinctions on islands may be slowing, perhaps because many of the potential introductions of alien species to predator-free islands have already occurred, driving the susceptible island species extinct, with conservation interventions successfully improving the status of some of the remainder. By contrast, the rate of extinctions on continents appears to be increasing as a result of extensive and expanding habitat destruction (see figure). If we continue to degrade and destroy vast areas of natural habitats then it will be difficult to prevent a much larger and more devastating extinction wave from washing over the continents.

Related Case Studies in other sections

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BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008. CD-ROM. Cambridge: BirdLife International.
Butchart, S. H. M., Stattersfield, A. J. and Brooks, T. M. (2006) Going or gone: defining ‘Possibly Extinct’ species to give a truer picture of recent extinctions. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club. 126A: 7–24.
Johnson, T. H. and Stattersfield, A. J. (1990) A global review of island endemic birds. Ibis 132:167–180.

Compiled: 2004    Last updated: 2017   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2017) We have lost over 150 bird species since 1500. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/12/2023