Avian flu has caused a sharp drop in the once-powerful pirates of the seas.
According to a survey by a charity, the Great Skuas, who are renowned for their ability to steal food from other birds, had a 76% decrease in population in 2023.
Following the avian flu that killed thousands of wild birds in 2021–2022, gannet and roseate tern populations were also severely decimated.
Before the epidemic, all three species’ numbers were increasing.
In the summer of 2021, the H5N1 strain of avian flu infected wild birds, killing thousands of them.
The findings make it clear that avian flu is “one of the biggest immediate conservation threats faced by multiple seabirds”, says the RSBP.
“This is a wake-up call as to how serious avian flu is and it’s coming on top of multiple other threats that these species face,” says Jean Duggan, RSPB avian influenza policy assistant.
After surveying thirteen bird species between May and July of 2023, the RSPB found that avian flu was most likely the reason for the loss of Sandwich and Common Terns as well as the decline of Great Skuas, Gannets, and Roseate Terns.
In the UK, the overall number has decreased from 9,088 to 2,160.
Ms Duggan emphasised that because so many birds nest there, Britain plays a critical role in the global protection of birds.
“It’s empowering to realise that if we take the right actions in the UK it will benefit global populations to a very significant degree,” she says.
In 2022, gannet populations suffered greatly as well; 11,175 were lost in Scotland, and 5,000 were thought to have died at Grassholm in Wales.
The overall number counted in the United Kingdom decreased by 25% in 2023, from 227,129 to 171,048.
In the UK, the avian flu has lessened recently, but in other areas of the world, it has killed large numbers of birds.
For the first time, it was found in Antarctic fur seals and elephants in January.