The colorful songbirds could be mistaken to extinction

The colorful songbirds could be mistaken to extinction

Uniquely colored songbirds are at high risk of extinction because they are in demand as pets, research has shown.

The domestic songbird trade in Asia has already brought several species close to extinction, with birds being targeted primarily for their beautiful voices.

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

Researchers say raising captive birds for trade could help.

“It won’t work for all species,” said lead researcher Prof Rebecca Senior, of Durham University. “But there is hope that we could shift the supply [of some pet birds] – so they are bred in captivity rather than wild-caught. “

Providing, rather than fighting, the songbird trade may prove controversial, but these researchers say it could be a practical way to prevent species from being lost to 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 behind in the tropical forests of Asia would gradually become “more squalid.” The most striking and uniquely colored birds would be the first to get lost.

To understand the threats to wild birds, Professor Senior and her colleagues carried out what was essentially an inventory of the species – and colors – most commonly bought and sold in Asian songbird markets.

“We found that species that had a more unique color – something not similar to other birds – are more likely to be interchanged,” he explained.

“And there are particular categories of colors that tend to be more common in the trade: light blue (sometimes described as sky blue) and yellow. Pure white is also quite common.”

Silent and dreary forests

Scientists also simulated the impact of trade by removing the most commonly 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, particularly Indonesia, the impact of trade has been labeled as a conservation crisis. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has established a group of specialists in an effort to prevent the extinction of species threatened by trade.

Owning songbirds is deeply rooted in local culture in Indonesia. Bird singing contests are very popular and, nationwide, can offer prizes worth tens of thousands of pounds. Many environmentalists have concluded that fighting trade is futile.

“Rather than going with all guns and saying, ‘You can’t catch these birds that have been an important part of your culture for so long,'” said Prof Senior, “we could identify the endangered species and try to shift supply to captive-bred birds.

“There is definitely the potential to meet the strong demand that exists.”

Follow Vittoria on Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.