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Shorebird populations collapse

Almost three-quarters of Australia's migratory and resident shorebirds have disappeared over the past 25 years, a study has revealed. The bird populations are in decline because their habitats are disappearing in Australia, South-East Asia, China and Russia. Around two million migratory birds, from 36 species, are currently gathering around Broome in Western Australia before making a 10,000km annual journey to their northern hemisphere breeding grounds. A large-scale aerial survey of eastern Australia shows migratory shorebird populations were once much larger and have plunged by 73% between 1983 and 2006. During that same period, the populations of Australia's 15 resident shorebird species have dropped by 81%. "The wetlands and resting places that they rely on for food and recuperation are shrinking virtually all the way along their migration path." Key staging areas for the birds are the shores of the Yellow Sea, between China and Korea, which are inhabited by 600 million people. Agriculture and industry continue to encroach on the tidal feeding grounds of the Yellow Sea, where migratory birds build up their body reserves before embarking on the next part of their annual journey.

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SOUTH AFRICA - Tens of thousands of starving swallows simply dropped dead out of the sky in South Africa's Limpopo province after a cold snap stopped them from feeding. The birds fell victim to plunging temperatures towards the end of March and were unable to feed properly as they prepared for their annual migration to Europe. "The tens of thousands of birds were falling down everywhere and just dying." Farmers in Limpopo had at first feared the birds were being poisoned. The dead swallows were only a small proportion of the mass migration which began on March 28. A scientist suggested that humans could try and prevent what was becoming an annual tragedy by addressing the root causes of climate change.

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