World Bird News 2018

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News |  World Bird News 2018

Milking the cow: why Dutch dairy is becoming bird-friendly

By Gerrit Gerritsen

For the last few years, VBN/BirdLife Netherlands has been working closely with Dutch farmers in the hopes of making the country’s world-famous dairy products as sustainable and nature-friendly as they are tasty. Gerrit Gerritsen tells us more about a most promising start.

International studies recently showed Dutch men to be the tallest in the world, standing on average at 1.84 metres – remarkably, some 20 cm taller than 150 years ago. But how did a nation once reputed for being short suddenly leap-frog to the top of the ladder? Many were quick to speculate the answer was obvious: a dairy rich diet in Edam, Gouda and Leerdammer. It surely couldn’t be a coincidence that the land of the big cheeses is now the land of the giants.

Though the factors behind this national growth spurt are almost certainly more complex, it is undeniable that dairy is big business in the Netherlands. After World War II, the Dutch government started a huge project to improve production in the dairy industry. Decades of large-scale national and EU grants further accelerated the process. Now, 70 years later, milk production is so great that we only need 20% for national consumption. The remaining 80% is exported, mainly as cheese or (baby) milk powder.
But this enormous economic success has also had disastrous consequences for our farmland biodiversity, rural landscapes and animal welfare. And it has also brought many disadvantages for small and medium sized farmers. Our lands were once resplendent with meadow birds but drainage, early mowing and the widespread transformation of biodiverse grasslands into sterile monocultures have all taken their heavy toll. Within a few short decades, we lost almost all of our populations of Ruff and Skylark and a disheartening number of Black-tailed Godwit – the national bird<Actinic:Variable Name = '1'/>. ‘Silent spring’ has fallen upon the lowlands.

In some parts of the country, farmers can partake in Agri-environmental schemes (AES) under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Though such schemes are designed to slow down the decline of farmland birds, the reality is less bright – issues with bureaucracy, management quality, short-termism and insufficient budgets all conspire to make good intentions go bad. In fact, the European Court of Auditors recently published a damning report on the chronic failures of CAP Greening which it described as ‘not yet environmentally effective’.<Actinic:Variable Name = '2'/>

Since 2012 Vogelbescherming (VBN/Birdlife Netherlands) has been reaching out to the Dutch dairy industry in an attempt to convince them that biodiversity measures should be at the heart of their of their sustainability programs and can also be a successful part of their business model. Though the conversation is still ongoing, we’re already starting to see some promising results…

In 2014 we launched a new cheese from an organic, biodiversity-rich farm where 33% of the grasslands are mown after mid-June, by which time Black-tailed Godwit chicks are able to fly. On this farm, the BTG-management is paid by agri-environmental schemes and out of the profits from the cheese. The farmer, Henk Pelleboer, also organizes Birdwatching-safaris and thousands of people visit his farm yearly. The cheese has been a commercial success with the public, but with only 60 selling points, it’s time to start thinking about the next step up – supermarkets.

In 2016 we successfully launched a new range of milk, yoghurt and cottage-cheese products in cooperation with the dairy-cooperation Noorderlandmelk. The brand, called Weide Weelde (Luxury Meadows) proudly bears the BirdLife logo and is sold in most Jumbo supermarkets, the second biggest supermarket chain in The Netherlands. The Weide Weelde milk comes from twelve non-organic farms in the north of the country. Each farm is obliged to write a nature management plan, helped by an advisor payed for by the dairy-industry. At the start, they managed at least 10% of their farm in a bird-friendly way and after three years this shot up to 20%.

VBN is actively promoting all these delicious, bird-friendly products with our members, and the momentum of interest – with both the dairy industry and consumers – is picking up speed. Just last year, we signed an agreement with the bio-dynamic farmers behind the brands Zuiver-Zuivel and Weerribben-Zuivel. We think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Iberian lynx – Europe’s Conservation Success Story

The Iberian lynx – the rarest species of cat in the world – is now also one of European conservation’s greatest success stories, with numbers in the wild up more than five-fold in just 15 years.

The most recent figures, from the 2017 census, show that there are now at least 547 lynxes on the Iberian Peninsula: an increase of 61 from the previous year. Roughly three-quarters of these (402) were found in the species’ southern stronghold of Andalucía, with the remaining 145 spread across the Spanish regions of Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha, and parts of neighbouring Portugal to the west.



The main reason for this rapid success is a dedicated reintroduction scheme. Started in 2014, and costing a total of €70 million, lynx cubs are bred in captivity and then, when they are ready to become independent, are released back into the wild. They are fitted with radio collars so that the project scientists are able to track their movements.



“It is quite amazing how successful the reintroduction scheme has been and the results achieved in less than four years. They are a magnificent animal to see in the wild, and there are starting to be sightings beyond the heartlands of Andalucia.” Commented Martin Kelsey, Birding Extremadura.



Roughly 50 animals are released each year, across all the regions where lynxes are found, and the first reintroduced individuals are now breeding successfully in the wild. This boosts the tiny population and also creates a more diverse genetic mix, as animals move from one area to another.



As a result of this project, and its success in growing the population, in 2015 the Iberian lynx was officially downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Although the species may not be completely secure yet, it has undoubtedly been brought back from almost certain extinction.



“The conservation of Iberian lynx is now seen not only as an ethical principle, but a key element of healthy Mediterranean ecosystems. It is also a way to improve the local economy through ecotourism, as it is one of the highlights for most nature lovers who come to Andalusia”. Commented José Luis Sánchez, Iberian Lynx Land.



The Iberian lynx is more brightly coloured and noticeably smaller than its cousin, the far more widespread Eurasian lynx, weighing roughly half as much, but still growing up to one metre long. They hunt mainly at night, or at dawn and dusk, using their excellent night vision to catch rabbits, and also deer and birds.



Other wildlife on offer in Spain includes a wide range of raptors, such as Spanish Imperial eagle, lammergeier and lesser kestrel; large and spectacular waterbirds, especially white and black storks, cranes and flamingoes; and a range of mammals, including Spanish ibex and brown bear.



If you would like to see the rarest species of cat in the wild, check out which Spanish wildlife specialists could show you an Iberian Lynx here.

The spring hunting ban in Kazakhstan: one year on

In early 2017, the government of Kazakhstan introduced a ban on spring hunting. One year on, Danara Zharbolova (ACBK/BirdLife Kazakhstan) reflects on why this decision was – and remains – so important.

Never has the expression “to be full of the joys of spring” rang so true than when all of us at ACBK/BirdLife Kazakhstan first welcomed the news of our government’s plans to introduce a ban on spring hunting. For us, this announcement brought much-needed new hope for many magnificent species that make our country their home - from ducks, geese and swans to grouse and woodcock. And, of course, the great brown bear!

The decision, which came into effect in time for the 2017 spring season (16 February to 14 June), was a giant leap towards better wildlife protection in Kazakhstan. It also came in the wake of many years of hard advocacy work by ACBK. Back in 2014, after gathering environmental data in support of a spring hunting ban for water birds, we submitted our findings to the Forestry and Wildlife Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture; and then in 2016, at this committee’s request, we reviewed the effectiveness of limiting the shooting season together with the Institute of Zoology of Kazakhstan.
So why did we need a hunting ban? And why does the ban’s continuation this year and after remain so critical? To start off, the numbers speak for themselves, and they tell a sorry story. The numbers of many common waterfowl species – swans, ducks and geese – that nest or fly over Kazakhstan are half of those in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, black and wood grouse numbers began showing an alarming downward trend between 2013 and 2016. These birds already have serious challenges to contend with, most notably habitat loss and climate change. Therefore, to allow hunting in springtime – that is to say during the critical mating season – is clearly a recipe for disaster.

In Kazakhstan, water birds are most affected by hunting. Though officially, only male ducks were permissible to hunt, because many species choose their mates during the overwintering period, the risk of one of the pair being killed in the spring dramatically reduced the chance of producing young. Furthermore, it’s proven impossible for rangers in hunting areas to effectively monitor and enforce hunting laws due to staff shortages and lack of training. Consequently, female ducks and protected geese and swans were also being killed illegally.
And the spring situation was not much better for the brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) population in East Kazakhstan. In spring, bears, including females with their new-born cubs, emerge from their dens. It is difficult for hunters to distinguish between males and females and therefore the risk of killing a female that has a family is just too high. The cubs are also hard to spot in the undergrowth, and without their mother, their chances of survival are slim to none.

A year on since the ban was first brought in, all the above rationale for maintaining it remains the same. And despite some protests and petitions against the ban – both last year and again this year – ACBK continues its work to uphold it unfazed.
Encouragingly, there has also been a lot of positive support for the ban. Even some hunting groups have started conducting waterbird counts and have reported a positive trend in the growth of nesting birds: In North Kazakhstan, for example, 46,600 geese were counted in breeding grounds in 2016 and 55,000 in 2017; while in the Karagandy region, the number of ducks counted rose from 472,000 to 512,000 during the same period. Nesting birds have also been counted where they had not been surveyed before.

This results are very promising, but we need to build on this good start. On the one hand, we need to ensure better enforcement of the law. And on the other hand, we also need more accurate bird counting. Surveys routinely class birds by very general categories such as ‘duck’ or ‘geese’ when proper records by species is needed. Some species are, as a result, left out entirely, such as the Eurasian woodcock. It just goes to show, that ACBK still has a lot of work to do, but we’re certainly ready to ‘spring’ into action!

Danara Zharbolova – Head of Communications, ACBK (BirdLife Kazakhstan)

Spain Boasts Best Wildlife in Europe

Spain Boasts Best Wildlife in Europe

Of all the many countries in Europe, few can boast such a variety of birds and other wildlife as Spain. From lammergeiers to Spanish imperial eagles, and Iberian lynxes to Eurasian brown bears, Spain is a must-visit destination for any keen bird and wildlife watcher.

Blue Sky Wildlife, working in collaboration with the Spanish Tourist Office, has put together a one-stop online shop or market place showcasing fourteen local wildlife specialists who between them offer more than 90 tours to this amazing wildlife destination, with prices starting from a little as €30 for a half day trip. Many of the tours are available throughout the year for the independent traveller seeking to see Wildlife in Spain.

Whether you would simply like a one- or two-day excursion while on holiday or during a business trip, a week long exploration of a particular area or a customised three-week trip visiting all the major bird and wildlife spots across Spain there’s a tour to suit all interests. Day trips include a one-day birding trip through the marshland in the north of the National Park of Doñana, a three-day alpine birding trek in the Picos de Europa seeking a variety of bird species to a seven-day wildlife tour to the Straits of Gibraltar to experience the powerful event of bird migration.

Why Spain? Spain has a diverse array of native animals, including a wide variety of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The country is home to some renowned species, such as the Spanish ‘Big Five’: Bearded Vulture, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Iberian Lynx, Iberian Wolf and Eurasian Brown Bear. Other distinctive mammals encountered in Spain include Common Genet, Wild Boar, Barbary Sheep and Spanish Ibex. While, on the coast, cetaceans, otters and seals may be seen. The country has the second largest number of mammals in Europe, with 115 different species recorded.

Spain is also home to over 630 bird species, including kites, vultures, eagles, storks, flamingos and bustards. The impressive abundance of birds that can be found in Spain is due both to its geographical location (it is a natural route between Europe and Africa) and its varied landscapes and climates.

Who better to organise a wildlife holiday than one of the local wildlife specialists based in Spain itself. Their local knowledge and expert, English-speaking guides, who live and breathe the country’s astonishing wildlife, mean that you have the very best chance of catching up with the key species you want to see. And the comprehensive selection of wildlife specialists and tours enable travellers to book the tour they want directly, simply by using the enquiry tab on each listings page.

Blue Sky Wildlife Two Years Young & Growing

Blue Sky Wildlife Two Years Young & Growing

Is Blue Sky Wildlife fast becoming the Airbnb or Uber of the wildlife industry?

With the explosion of peer to peer applications and websites around the world, it is not surprising that Blue Sky Wildlife is an online marketplace which connects the eco tourist with reliable local wildlife specialists across 35 destinations worldwide. A first for the wildlife industry.

Launched two years ago, in collaboration with Tim Appleton MBE, co-founder of Birdfair, Blue Sky Wildlife offers the independent traveller a choice of over 450 unique wildlife tours which they can book directly with established and award-winning local tour operators and companies already listed on this growing ecotourism website. Two destinations, Spain and Peru, already offer over 70 wildlife itineraries in each destination which no other wildlife company presently offers worldwide.

Travellers can choose from an extensive selection of trips, some of which are set departure tours while others are available throughout the year. For wildlife enthusiasts who would like something more bespoke, the majority of the local wildlife specialists listed offer tailor-made tours.



“We always set out to create something truly unique for the wildlife travel industry and wanted to create a platform to support the quality local specialist while enabling the traveller to secure the best experience and deal by communicating directly” commented Chris Larsen, Director Blue Sky Wildlife.


The eco tourist benefits from dealing directly with the local specialist, whether that is by phone or email as who better to organise a holiday than a specialist who lives and breathes their market! Travellers will also get a better deal by buying directly as there is no middle man, making it better for them and also better for the local economy.

Blue Sky Wildlife offers a range of wildlife experiences including birdwatching, conservation, ecolodges, family, photography, safaris and trekking.


Blue Sky Wildlife is committed to sustainable ecotourism and has been recognised as a Birdlife Species Champion supporting the Birdlife International Preventing Extinctions programme since 2016.

For more information visit https://www.blueskywildlife.com/ .

Hunting tourism carnage in Tunisia is currently legal

A recent Facebook post by the Lebanese Hunting Club (dated 10 January but subsequently erased) used these horrifying images to advertise hunting trips in Tunisia. They shocked the internet – but the carnage they depict is currently legal.
By Claudia Feltrup-Azafzaf, Friends of the Birds Association

Widely shared by conservation organisations and activists, this graphic invitation for tourists to slaughter excessive numbers of birds provoked indignation and disgust among Internet users, who are calling on the Tunisian authorities to eradicate these unsustainable practices. Because let's be clear - no matter how horrible these images are, and whatever we think of the Lebanese Hunting Club and the hunters who are immortalised in these photos, the hunting trip that produced such carnage was almost definitely authorised under Tunisian law.

Tourist hunting is authorised and regulated in Tunisia: the facts

Tourist hunters in Tunisia are permitted to kill wild boar, jackal, fox, mongoose, genet - and numerous bird species. To do so, they only need to apply to a Tunisian travel agency to organise a hunting trip. They are then provided with a hunting license (valid for 7 days and renewable) and a specialised guide. Depending on the game they target, hunters may also pay a fee to the Tunisian state, which can range from one thousand dinars (336 €) to two thousand dinars (672 €) per hunter depending on the time and duration of the trip. Each hunter is also allowed to bring along 350 rounds of ammunition.

Carnage without limits

No quota is set for the killing of Thrushes (Turdidae) or Starlings (Sturnidae). In fact, this is the case for more than thirty species of “huntable” bird in Tunisia. The exceptions to this rule are the Barbary partridge Alectoris Barbara, and members of the Sandgrouse family Pteroclididae. For these species, each hunter is limited to 6 or 10 killls per day respectively.But back to the Thrushes and Starlings: during the three consecutive days that a tourist is authorised to hunt, they can visit up to three governorates (territorial communities in Tunisia), choosing from twelve in which hunting of these birds is permitted. They can expend 350 cartridges of ammunition. And this explains the piles of dead birds you see in the pictures on the Lebanese Hunting Club’s Facebook page.
The Friends of the Birds Association "Les Amis des Oiseaux" (AAO - BirdLife in Tunisia) has not let the situation go unchallenged. As a permanent member of the Consultative Commission on Game Hunting and Conservation (CCCCG), the body in charge of the annual review of the hunting organisation decree, it has been campaigning since its appointment for better provisions of this decree.

Through its awareness-raising and advocacy efforts, it has succeeded in reducing the number of bird species that can be hunted in Tunisia and increasing the number of specially protected species. Thanks to the Association’s tireless lobbying, certain hunting methods and techniques have been banned, and hunting opening periods reduced. And each year, the AAO ensures that the most important sites for the conservation of bird life in Tunisia remain closed to hunting.

All of these measures are extremely unpopular among most hunters

These encouraging achievements are thanks in part to AAO’s participation in international projects aiming to make hunting more sustainable . But many battles are still waiting to be won. These include introducing quotas for all of Tunisia’s “huntable” bird species, modifying Sandgrouse hunting periods, reducing the period during which female hawks may be kept, and automatically removing from the hunting list any species of bird that has been declared Globally Threatened with extinction.

All of these measures are extremely unpopular among most hunters and authorities, for several reasons, none of which are ecological. As biodiversity conservation associations are largely in the minority within the commission, the Friends of the Birds Association has not yet succeeded in finding a majority to push these improvements through. Together with our national and international partners, we are considering a new strategy to ensure that the members of the CCCCG Commission hear the voice of reason.

No excuses

Tunisia is a signatory to several international conventions that commit it to the sustainable management and conservation of wildlife. The authorities are therefore obliged to introduce all measures necessary to achieve these objectives. In the absence of a national red list, they should remove from the hunting list any bird classed as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List. Even lack of accurate population size estimates should not impede common sense measures to cut the devastating impact that hunting has on Tunisia’s bird populations.

World Bird News January 2018

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