The world is not going to the birds - because the birds are going first.
Millions of wild birds around the world are being trapped, shot, cooked, plucked, starved, poisoned, driven out of their nests, covered in oil or illegally caged as pets, according to recent reports by environmental and conservation groups.Bird-monitoring groups say 1,000 species face possible extinction, which is viewed by some environmentalists as both a global tragedy and a sign of increased threats to all species, including humans.
Nearly 70 percent of the world's 9,600 bird species are on the decline, a British study concludes. Another study says uncontrolled trade in wild birds is a growing threat to hundreds of species, particularly in Southeast Asia.
"Just as coal miners once carried canaries into the mines with them to test for dangerous air, we can monitor birds at large to spot incipient danger in the world at large," said an article in World Watch, a publication of the non-profit Worldwatch Institute.
The report by the environmental research group cites studies by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Duke University's Center for Tropical Conservation and BirdLife International in England that show falling bird populations in various parts of the world.
"Most bird species are declining because natural balances are being knocked askew by the global expansion of humanity," the report says.
A recent U.S. government survey showed a 30 percent drop in the 10 most common North American duck species since 1955.
Among other birds disappearing are white storks, mythical carriers of human babies who used to be common across Europe, the hooded robin of Australia, the wood thrush of eastern North America and the ostrichlike rheas of South America.
A study published last week by the World Wildlife Fund's trade-monitoring arm, "Sold for a Song," chronicles the dramatic growth of commerce in wild birds. It says 2,600 bird species have been recorded in international trade in the past 20 years.
The study focusing on Southeast Asia says up to 5 million specimens are traded each year in the region, with the undocumented Chinese songbird trade accounting for as many as 3 million more. Some of the trade is illegal under international agreements, but much of it is not restricted by local laws.
The report says wild birds often sell for a few dollars in hundreds of market stalls in Indonesia, but rarer species can bring thousands of dollars in New York or London.