Wednesday, February 28

The bird with the ugliest song in the world

The Balearic shearwater is scary, but it’s even scarier that it could disappear: it is the most threatened seabird in Europe, the only one in critical danger of extinction

His song is possibly the most ugly on the planet , rather than trills, they seem to bawl. They certainly do not sound like the sweet melody of the nightingale. His creator gave the shearwaters an elegant flight perhaps to compensate for his ‘voice’, a strange succession of cacophonies with which Stephen King could sign the soundtrack of his chilling novels. And yet Pep Arcos, coordinator of Seo Birdlife’s marine program, never tires of listening to them without getting stressed; They even help you relax. «I understand that it is not a very melodic song, but it does not give me a bad omen, on the contrary, it evokes very beautiful situations».

Arcos, like all ornithologists, celebrates
This Saturday World Bird Day, an opportunity to talk about the Balearic shearwater and its peculiar song, which in the past the men of the sea confused with that of the sirens, and which now could well disappear if we do not take care of its depleted populations. Not surprisingly, it is the most threatened seabird in Europe, the only one in critical danger of extinction, as listed in the Red Book of Endangered Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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«Everyone knows what a lynx or an imperial eagle is, on the other hand we have in Spain the most threatened bird species in all of Europe, which is the Balearic shearwater, of which there are less than three thousand pairs left, and the majority of people don’t know it”, laments Arcos, who also speaks of the Cory’s shearwater, in less danger than its Balearic counterpart, and which breeds mainly in the Canary Islands and in some other Mediterranean islets (off the coasts of Murcia and Almería and in the Chafarinas islands), and in some of the Atlantic islands of Galicia.

It has a wingspan of about 80 centimeters, weighs half a kilo, lives an average of 14 years and nests in remote places where it goes at night.

The general ignorance that hovers over these birds with a wingspan of about 80 centimeters and a weight of half a kilo may be the result of their nocturnal discretion. Their colonies are usually on cliffs in remote places, where they choose very remote cracks to avoid terrestrial predators, “and when they approach them they do so at night,” says Arcos.

Shearwaters are often confused with seagulls, but their flight is much finer and more elegant. They are also tireless travellers, capable of traveling 20,000 kilometers a year and reaching the coasts of Brazil, Argentina and South Africa before returning to their Spanish colonies. “They always fly at water level, taking advantage of the sea currents to travel thousands of kilometers in spectacular migrations,” explains Arcos, who highlights the shearwaters’ ability to breed on islands located hundreds of kilometers from the continental coasts, where they feed on Fish banks. “I find it fascinating that one of the two adults leaves its colony, leaving the chick in the nest and going away for several days to look for food in very productive areas,” says Arcos.

Two serious and direct threats shorten the cycle of the shearwater, which is usually a long-lived bird since it lives an average of 14 years, but some have been located with more than 30. On the mainland, predators introduced by man, such as cats and rats, which have ‘landed’ in the most remote corners, prompting the birds to seek even more inaccessible places to nest, “yet they continue to suffer predation.” And in the sea, apart from pollution and plastics, their problem is accidental capture in fishing gear: they get hooked on the long lines (the lines of hooks with bait) on which the shearwaters are launched in group to eat. “Since they feed in a group, at one stroke, more than a hundred can die. It is not about accusing the fishermen because for them it is also a problem, but it is convenient to look for a solution”, indicates Arcos.

Both the Balearic Shearwater and Cory’s Shearwater, both highly sensitive to climate change, have been chosen by SEO Birds of the Year in the past to draw attention to the problems that lie in wait for them and give them visibility. But both are still at risk, the Balearic far worse than the Cinderella, of which there are about 20,000 pairs left and which is still considered a vulnerable or endangered species depending on whether it breeds in the Canary Islands or in the Mediterranean. «The reasons are that they are animals very well adapted to their environment, so specialized and so well adapted that they do not adapt well to changes. They have a very slow pace of life and take time to reach sexual maturity. They have a long life expectancy but reproduce little. They only lay one egg a year when they breed. And when they start breeding in a place, they always breed in that place and if there is any change that makes it uninhabitable, they are not able to go to another place”, which affects their life cycle.

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