More than 50% of Spain’s birds face conservation problems

by Lorraine Williamson
bird conservation

More than half of the bird species in Spain suffer from conservation problems. And 22 of them are threatened with extinction. This is evident from the ‘Red Book of Spain’s Birds 2021‘ presented by SEO/BirdLife. The book has been updated for the first time since 2004. 

The NGO SEO/Birdlife warns that the protection of the Spanish avifauna is inadequate. This is because conservation plans have been approved for only 7 of the 22 species threatened with extinction. Therefore, the organisation is calling for the Spanish Catalogue of Threatened Species and the regional catalogues to be updated. 

The new edition shows that the main threats to birds are the challenges facing society. This is according to executive director, Asunción Ruiz, of SEO/BirdLife, who says this is a ‘crucial moment’. 

To improve species conservation and ensure a quality of life in the future for people, the fight against climate change must be compatible with the conservation of biodiversity. We also need to establish truly sustainable agri-food systems and restore habitats ensuring the proper functioning of ecosystems, Ruiz said. 

From 175 to 359 species on the list 

The number of species assessed has risen from 175 in 2004 to 359 in the new Red Book. The NGO states 56% of the bird species assessed have conservation problems. This is either because their endangered status has been confirmed or because they are still unknown. And, furthermore, 25% (90 species) of the Spanish avifauna is endangered and has been included in categories threatened with extinction. 

Only 7 of the 22 species currently on the threatened species list have a conservation strategy adopted at national level; the Spanish imperial eagle, marbled teal, coot, white-headed duck, Balearic shearwater, bearded vulture and Cantabrian capercaillie. 

However, the NGO urges that these strategies be reviewed and regularly updated to make them more rigorous, increase their usefulness and raise the level of compliance, as only the strategy for the Spanish imperial eagle has been revised; the other six are out of date. 

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Also, ‘no autonomous community’ has adopted all recovery or conservation plans for endangered or vulnerable species found in their territory. 

Nicolás López-Jiménez, head of the species conservation programme at SEO/BirdLife, points out that almost one in four species is threatened. But this situation is not reflected in the level of legal protection, either at regional or national level. He regrets that, since the previous Red Book was published 17 years ago, the general situation of bird species has not improved and more birds are close to extinction. López-Jiménez points out that with the right resources and efforts, good results can be achieved. Furthermore, this is the case for some large birds of prey. 


The 359 species included in the Spanish Red List of Birds represent 57% of the 622 species found in Spain and 62.8% of the country’s native or naturally occurring birds (572). Of the 359 species, 90 (25.1%) are in an endangered category (critical, threatened or vulnerable), 12 (3.3%) species or populations are in the category of extinction or danger of extinction; 51 (14.2%) species are near threatened; 157 (43.7%) species do not appear to be at risk and are classified as ‘little concern’ and 49 (13.6%) species do not have sufficient information so they could not be classified. 

Breeding birds, wintering birds and migratory birds 

Another classification is that of breeding birds and wintering or migrating birds. 

Only 42% of breeding birds have a favourable conservation status, whereas this percentage rises to 56% for wintering or migratory birds. 

Most of the threatened species prefer to live in agro-systems and other semi-natural habitats (34%), followed by humid freshwater areas (24.7%). Of the threatened bird species, 18% are sea or coastal birds, 12% live in mountain areas and only 10% have the forest as their natural habitat. Populations in the agro-steppe and wetland ecosystems are in the worst shape. 

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