From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published April 11, 2014 08:01 AM

EDGE List Released: Meet the 100 Strangest and Most Endangered Birds

The comic dodo, the stately great auk, the passenger pigeon blotting out the skies, the giant moas reigning over New Zealand: human kind has wiped out nearly 200 species of birds in the last five hundred years. Birds we'll never get back. Now, if we don't act soon we'll add many new ones to the list: birds such as the giant ibis, the plains-wanderer, and the crow honeyeater. And these are just a few of the avians that appear today on the long-awaited EDGE list of the world's 100 strangest and most endangered birds.

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"The release of the EDGE Birds list enables us to prioritize our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species," said Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager. "These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world."

Conservation by science

Run by the Zoological Society of London, the highly-innovative EDGE program (which stands for Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered) does conservation differently. Instead of focusing on so-called charismatic and well-known species, the EDGE program chooses its focal species based on two scientific data points: evolutionary distinctness and the risk of extinction according to the IUCN Red List. In other words, instead of making conservation a popularity contest, EDGE employs science to determine where limited conservation resources should be focused first.

"Many of the species we're highlighting are less familiar and are receiving less conservation attention than typical bird conservation priorities," Waterman told mongabay.com. In fact, about half of the birds on the list have seen little to no attention by conservationists. Like many other species worldwide, birds have been decimated by habitat loss and deforestation, overhunting and overfishing, pollution, and invasive species, while climate change remains a rising threat to the avian family.

The new list is based on years of research by evolutionary biologists, headed by Walter Jetz with Yale University. Jetz and his team created a massive family tree for birds in 2012 and today released a new study in Current Biology outlining evolutionary distinctness within the family. Evolutionary distinctness refers to how far apart an animal lies on the family tree from its relatives, allowing scientists to see which bird species are arguably the more irreplaceable in evolutionary terms.

"To date, conservation has emphasized the number of species, treating all species as equal," said Jetz. "But not all species are equal in their genetic or geographic rarity."

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Philippine eagle image via Shutterstock.

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