Keeping common birds common

443 white-fronted bee-eater0430 J8W8092a fronemanIntroduction

As an affiliated partner of BirdLife International, two of BirdLife South Africa’s main focal areas include the conservation of bird species and their habitats. This includes species that are threatened and in urgent need of intervention, but should be expanded to include species of the wider environment. Studies on European bird species have shown that species that were once considered common and widespread, have undergone large declines in recent decades. Farmland birds in particular, have declined by more than 50% since 1980 (check), a loss of more than 300 million birds. The decline of these species is indicative of a wider problem: the unsustainable nature of current land-use policies.

In view of the above, BirdLife South Africa would like to expand its current focus on land bird conservation to include projects on common birds. Due to their non-threatened status, common birds such as Dark-capped Bulbul and Laughing Dove do not feature strongly in species-prioritisation exercises. However, if the situation in Europe is anything to go by, there could be a wealth of evidence to suggest that the numbers of common birds are declining. The threats responsible for this decline should be identified, assessed and prioritised. Although some non-threatened bird species may show range expansions, further research is needed to indicate whether the species numbers are stable, increasing or decreasing despite the range expansion. The Cattle Egret, which has a widespread distribution, would be an example of such a species.

Wild Bird Indicator graph This graph shows population trends in groups of birds over time, using a number of indicator species in each category. BirdLife South Africa will similarly analyse trends in non-threatened and threatened farmland, grassland, forest, water and wetland, seabird bird species in South Africa.


Keeping common birds common projects

The Orange-breasted Waxbill Project

The European Roller Project

The Black-shouldered Kite Project 

small is BIG sponsorship proposal: Orange-breasted Waxbill project


Keeping common birds common through citizen science

If you would like to contribute to our knowledge of common bird populations, you may want to consider supporting a citizen science project. Citizen science projects are fundamental in supplying monitoring data of common bird species. These include:


The second South African Bird Atlassing Project  (SABAP2) aims to map the distribution and relative abundance of birds in southern Africa. The atlas area includes South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The field work for this project is done by more than a thousand volunteers, who collect the data from the field at their own cost and in their own time, thereby making a huge contribution to the conservation of birds and their habitat. For more information on how to start atlassing, please go to


Birdlasser is an application which can be downloaded on cellular phones, IPad and laptops. It is an easy and convenient atlassing tool as it enables users to log, plot and share sightings. Not only are users able to share sightings with SABAP2 but also with other conservation projects such as the Rose-ringed Parakeet Project of University of Witwatersrand and the Southern Ground Hornbill of the Mabula ground Hornbill project. 

Birdlasser can be downloaded in Play store, App store and Google play. For more information on Birdlasser please visit the Birdlasser webpage at

Co-ordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC)

The project focuses on the conservation of waterbirds and consists of a programme of regular mid-summer and mid-winter censuses at a large number of South African wetlands. Regular six-monthly counts are regarded as a minimum standard, but counters are encouraged to survey their wetlands on a more regular basis as this provides more accurate data. Currently the project regularly monitors over 400 wetlands around the country, and curates waterbird data for over 600 sites. For more information, please go to

The South Africa Birding Ringing Unit (SAFRING)

SAFRING provides bird ringing services in South Africa and other African countries. This entails providing ringing equipment to qualified ringers, and curating all ringing data. For more information on SAFRING and on how to become a bird ringer, please go to

Co-ordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR)

Large and conspicuous birds offer the opportunity to monitor their populations by means of relatively simple techniques such as road counts, where observations are made from vehicles covering fixed routes. Populations of large birds such as Blue Cranes will reflect loss of habitat through changes in land use, increases in crop agriculture and human population densities, poisoning as well as man-made structures like power lines. For more information, please go to

Birds in Reserves Project (BIRP)

The primary aim of the project is the collection of bird occurrence data, specifically inside South African protected areas (PAs). The process is fairly simple; volunteers go out to any PA and simply make a list of all the bird species observed. For more information, please go to

For more information about “keeping the common birds common”, an initiative of the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme:

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