Yellow-breasted bunting next to share the fate of the passenger pigeon?

Submitted by Looduskalender EN on Fri, 03.11.2017 - 11:36

Linnuvaatleja news,
Translation Liis

Estonian text  posted 30.10.2017


The passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) that lived in North America in the 19th century and whose flocks consisted of several billions of birds has probably been the most numerous bird species in the world.

Although extinction of the passenger pigeon seemed impossible, the extermination of the species took place within only a few decades through mindless hunting and the destruction of their habitats – forests . The last passenger pigeon kept caged died in 1914.

What happened to the passenger pigeons shows that even very numerous and widely spread species should be observed when the first signs of danger appear.

In the second half of the previous century the yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola) was still a very numerous species whose breeding territory reached from Finland to the Far East. In the Siberian areas it was probably one of the most abundant breeding birds among passerines.

The first signs that the numbers of the species had declined came in the 1990s from Japan. Currently the number of yellow-breasted buntings has fallen by possibly as much as 95%. The yellow-breasted bunting has disappeared altogether from Finland, Belarus, Ukraine and large areas of the European parts of Russia.


Yellow-breasted bunting / Photo: Madina Arystanova (wikimedia commons)

The main causes of the decline in the numbers of yellow-breasted buntings can be compared to those of the passenger pigeon. The yellow-breasted bunting too migrates in large groups and gathers to spend the night in enormous flocks that are very easy to hunt. While earlier the yellow-breasted bunting was caught for food in a relatively small area in Southern China, this has changed by now to a mass enterprise in a very large area which in turn has brought along a decrease in the number of other bunting species living in Asia.

Although catching the yellow-breasted bunting is prohibited in China from the year 1997, poaching and selling of the birds on the black market continues as before. In addition yellow-breasted buntings are caught for preparing stuffed specimens, since according to belief owning a stuffed bird brings luck to the home, and also as caged birds to be set free in temple rituals. All the above, together with the intensification of agriculture and the disappearance in the wintering areas of suitable habitats – reed areas – have brought the yellow-breasted bunting to the verge of extinction.

Currently the yellow-breasted bunting is on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in the critically endangered species category.

The international protection program for the yellow-breasted bunting should be ready in 2019. This year China has taken measures for the protection of the yellow-breasted bunting and other migrating passerines, actualized the conservation laws and prohibited the use of protected species for food. A key point for achieving success is however an increased awareness of people – not to use the birds for food and to report any kind of unlawful behaviour.

In Estonia the yellow-breasted bunting has been seen altogether 3 times, the last time in 1984, and considering the history of the species it is ever more unlikely that the yellow-breasted bunting once more would stray here.


More to read:
BirdLife International 17.10.2017 Is the Yellow-breasted Bunting the next Passenger Pigeon?
Info about the yellow-breasted bunting on BirdLife International home page


Margus Ots

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