EDGE Birds: Surviving on a Wing and a Prayer

The ‘little dodo’ and a bird that dispatches its prey by stamping on its head are among the world’s 100 most unique and endangered birds, reveal experts at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Yale University. 

Ranging from the ankle-high sandpiper to the prehistoric looking greater adjutant, which stands as tall as an adult human, scientists assessed the species according to how Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) they are.

Visit EDGE Top 100 Birds

EDGE Birds represent millions of years of unique evolutionary history. They are not only threatened with extinction, but are also highly unique in the way they look, live and behave.

Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager at ZSL says: “Half of the 100 highest ranked EDGE bird species are receiving little or no conservation attention. We lament the extinction of the dodo, but without action we stand to lose one of its closest relatives, the tooth-billed pigeon or ‘little dodo’, and many other extraordinary birds.

“The release of the EDGE Birds list enables us to prioritise our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species. These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world.”

See the gallery of birds

The Philippine eagle preys on monkeys and flying lemurs, but despite its strength, this impressive bird is now under huge threat from deforestation as it requires an area bigger than the city of Oxford to rear a single chick. ZSL will now be spearheading a new conservation project to conserve its habitat.                                                                   

One of the most critically endangered birds listed is the northern bald ibis from Morocco. With a head that looks like it has been dipped in a bucket of red paint, this striking bird suffered a severe population crash following the introduction of pesticides in the 1950s, and there are now believed to be less than 300 adult birds remaining in the wild.

EDGE birds were identified in a paper published today in Current Biology. Lead author Prof Walter Jetz from Yale University and Imperial College London, says: “These highly distinct and endangered birds often occur far away from places that are species-rich or are already on conservation’s radar.

“By identifying these top 100 species, we can now focus our efforts on targeted conservation action and better monitoring to help ensure that they are still here for future generations to come. As we show, conservation priorities can be adjusted to better conserve the avian tree of life and the many important functions it provides.”

EDGE Birds is part of ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme which has also developed priority lists for mammals, amphibians and corals. Along with its own conservation projects, the programme supports local conservationists, known as EDGE Fellows, to lead projects on poorly-known EDGE species.

ZSL is now looking for new Fellows to champion the EDGE bird species and ensure a future for these remarkable feathered creatures.  


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