Migrating birds take remarkable journeys, navigating thousands of miles across land and sea to make it to their winter homes. However, habitat loss along the way adds extra stress for some species--can you imagine flying all that way to find that everything at your destination has changed since last year? That is, more than 90 percent of migrating birds lack proper protection due to poorly coordinated conservation around the world, a new study revealed. 

"More than half of migratory bird species travelling the world's main flyways have suffered serious population declines in the past 30 years. This is due mainly to unequal and ineffective protection across their migratory range and the places they stop to refuel along their routes," Dr. Claire Runge, lead author from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the University of Queensland, explained in a news release. "A typical migratory bird relies on many different geographic locations throughout its annual cycle for food, rest and breeding. So even if we protect most of their breeding grounds, it's still not enough -- threats somewhere else can affect the entire population. The chain can be broken at any link."

In the study, recently published in Science, researchers highlight where there are major conservation gaps, specifically areas across China, India, and parts of Africa and South America. Based on their findings, researchers are calling for an international collaborative effort in order to properly protect the world's traveling birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. 

Some of the birds they examined in their study include bar-tailed godwits and Arctic terns, which both clock flight miles equivalent to the distance to the moon and back, three times during their lives. Another example is the sooty shearwater that flies from the Falkland Islands to the Arctic, totaling 64,000 kilometers. What's more impressive is the tiny blackpoll warbler, which flies from Canada to South America over open ocean for three days straight.  

In total, 1,324 of the world's 1,451 migrating bird species are inadequately protected along at least one part of their journey. Additionally, 18 species had no protection at all in their natural breeding habitats, two species had no protection at all throughout their entire migratory route, and three percent of the species listed as threatened under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List are protected, researchers explained

"For example, the red-spectacled amazon -- a migratory parrot of Brazil -- is threatened by habitat loss," Dr. Stuart Butchart, co-author of the study and Head of Science at BirdLife International, added. "And yet less than four percent of its range is protected, and almost none of its seasonal breeding areas in southern Brazil are covered."

For their study researchers collected information on the movement of all migratory birds species at different times of the year, and compared this with maps of protect areas, such as national parks, in different habitat types, including wetlands, Arctic tundra, desert environments, savannas and forests. 

When identifying the areas in most need of a conservation boost, researchers found over 8,200 locations that are internationally important for migratory birds, but only 22 percent of this area is completely protected, while 41 percent only partially overlaps with protected areas. 

"Establishing new reserves to protect the unprotected sites -- and more effectively managing all protected areas for migratory species -- is critical to ensure the survival of these iconic species," Dr. Butchart said in the University of Queensland's news release

Since migrating birds travel so widely, collaborative international partnerships will ensure that conservation measures taken at a bird's origin will pay off where it decides to rest for the winter. 

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