BARCELONA, Spain Dwindling numbers of birds worldwide are a sign that governments are failing to keep promises to slow damage to nature by 2010, an international report said on Thursday.
Rising human populations and clearance of forests for farming or biofuels were wrecking natural habitats, according to the study by Birdlife International, which groups experts in more than 100 conservation bodies worldwide.
Even common birds, such as doves or skylarks in Europe, were becoming scarcer in a worrying sign of wider upsets to nature. Birds are among the best researched of all wildlife and are a barometer of the environment.
"Bird species are slipping faster than ever towards extinction," according to Birdlife's "State of the World's Birds" report issued at an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress in Barcelona.
In May, Birdlife International data for an IUCN "Red List" of endangered species showed that one in eight, or 1,226 of almost 10,000 bird species, were at risk of extinction with new threats including climate change.
Birds' decline showed governments were failing to live up to a commitment made at the U.N. Earth Summit in 2002 to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of loss of diversity of animals and plants by 2010, the report said.
"With two years to go, birds are showing that we are falling far short of the target, and that, far from slowing down, the rate of biodiversity loss is still accelerating," it said.
Alison Stattersfield, head of science for Birdlife and lead author of the report, told Reuters: "Birds are a good indicator for the wider environment because we have such long records.
"People notice that there aren't so many birds around, even ones that are common." she said.
Millions of amateur birdwatchers have helped ensure longer and better records than for other creatures such as amphibians or insects.
Stattersfield said birds had been tracked by the "Red List" since 1988, the longest of any type of creature. Since then, 225 species have been listed as under greater threat, compared with just 17 whose status has improved.
Since 2000, three species were feared to have become extinct -- Spix's macaw in Brazil, the Hawaiian crow and the poo-uli, also in Hawaii, according to the report (www.birdlife.org/sowb).
Among bird families, 82 percent of albatrosses were threatened, 60 percent of cranes, 27 percent of parrots, 23 percent of pheasants and 20 percent of pigeons. Big birds that produce few eggs seemed most at risk.
Humans use about half of all species of birds, mainly as pets or as food. Among other uses, birds help keep insect pests in check in farmland and forests.
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(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)