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Vanishing Into Thin Air

Today, 12 percent of bird species risk extinction

  • NWF Staff
  • Oct 01, 2006
SCIENTISTS BELIEVE that birds, without human influence, would naturally go extinct at a rate of about one species per century. But over the past 500 years, habitat loss has resulted in a rate closer to one species per year, according to a new study coauthored by Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm. Researchers previously documented 154 bird extinctions since 1500. But Pimm calls that number “hugely misleading”: Most bird species were unknown to humans before 1850, so earlier extinctions generally went unnoticed. Today, 12 percent of bird species risk extinction.

There is some good news: Pimm found that extinctions in the last 30 years have actually slowed, thanks to conservation efforts. But many birds are still in trouble, says Pimm. “We have a lot of work to do if we don’t want to see the extinction rate accelerate to 1,000 times what it should be.” —Hannah Schardt

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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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