Above – Orange-headed thrush: a popular species used in bird-singing competitions. Are they to blame for its declining population? Photo: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Creative Commons


TWO RESEARCHERS FROM the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US have examined the practice of bird-singing contests and the effect they can have on wild bird populations.

The research paper, which was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, has reviewed 30 years of literature about bird-singing contents and finds that take place in at least 19 countries around the world­ – but are most prevalent in Southeast Asia – and feature at least 36 bird species.

“A champion bird can gain prestige for its owner and, in some cases, bring in considerable prize money,” explains lead author Ben Mirin, a PhD student at the Cornell Lab. “Today, these contests drive demand in the global songbird trade, especially in Southeast Asia where more bird species are threatened by trade than in any other region of the world.”

The research finds that bird-singing contests can put pressure on wild bird populations and highlighted the fact that white-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus), brown-headed barbet (Psilopogon zeylanicus) and orange-headed thrush (Geokichla citrina) are among the top five most popular species for singing contests and all three have declining populations.

Mr Mirin hopes that the research will provide a valuable basis for future conservation strategies targeting the songbird trade on a global scale. He is pursuing additional research to learn how educational tools created with local people can address the threats of the songbird trade, while preserving the cultural meaning attached to songbird contests.

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