The number of endangered bird species in the country has risen to 154 as compared to 149 two years ago, a recent study has said.

A joint study by BirdLife International and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which revealed the figure, attributes declining number of bird species to habitat destruction as the primary reason.

“Destruction of habitat is the prime reason for all these disappearing species. According to BirdLife studies in Asia, the condition of Great Slaty Woodpecker has deteriorated from “Least Concern” to “Vulnerable”, while that of Rufous—backed Bunting has deteriorated from “Vulnerable” to "Endangered", BNHS director Dr. Asad Rahmani said here today.

Commenting on the decline in bird numbers, Mr. Rahmani said, “It is extremely alarming that almost 13 per cent of world’s birds are either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Great Slaty Woodpecker is an addition from India into the vulnerable category, primarily due to habitat loss.”

“The fact that now 154 bird species from India are threatened, as against 149 in 2008, is an indicator of further deterioration of the environment,” he said.

In light of the alarming situation of several bird species in India, BNHS strongly urges the Government of India to start special programmes for the protection of birds and their habitats, Mr. Rahmani said.

BNHS has identified 466 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across India, which are crucial for bird habitats. At present 200 among them are not officially protected. BNHS feels that all such areas should be protected and the local communities should be involved in conservation measures, he said.

Mr. Rahmani, who is also a member of the Global Council of BirdLife and Chairman of BirdLife Asia Council, said that supposedly common species in India like Nilgiri Blue Robin and White—bellied Blue Robin have been included in the endangered category. Himalayan Quail and Pink—headed Duck are considered extinct in India since they have not been seen for nearly 100 years, he added.

“However, there is still hope to rediscover these birds, they have been included in the critically endangered category,” he said.

BNHS and IBCN (Indian Bird Conservation Network, set up by BNHS) have been working on several critically endangered species like Bengal Florican, Jerdon’s Courser, Sociable Lapwing, Forest Owlet and four species of vultures.

Mr. Rahmani has been working on the Great Indian Bustard for 30 years. This bird, one among the 16 endangered species in India, is very likely to become critically endangered soon, unless concrete steps are taken for the protection of its habitat.

Globally, the picture is no different. BirdLife has announced extinction of Alaotra Grebe in the 2010 IUCN Red List update for birds.

Alaotra Grebe was restricted to a tiny area of east Madagascar and it declined rapidly after carnivorous fish and nylon gill—nets were introduced to the lakes in which it lived.

“Invasive alien species have caused extinctions around the globe and remain one of the major threats to birds and other biodiversity”, BirdLife Internationals Director of Science, Policy and Information Dr. Leon Bennun said.

Other bird species suffering globally include Zapata Rail, a wetland bird from Cuba that is now critically endangered due to the menace of introduced mongooses and exotic catfish and pressure on wetlands.

The Great Knot and Far Eastern Curlew are now under serious threat due to drainage of wetlands and pollution, Mr. Bennun said, adding that Wattled Curassow and White—bellied Cinclodes from the Americas, Australian Painted Snipe and Kofiau Paradise—kingfisher from the Pacific, Black Crowned—crane and Ludwig’s Bustard from Africa and Corsican Nuthatch from Europe are also seriously under threat.

Only a few species like Azores Bullfinch from Europe and Yellow—eared Parrot from Columbia have shown some increase in numbers after they got strict protection, Mr. Rahmani said.