Why is it endangered?
People have been trapping this bird for many decades because of its plumage. In the early twentieth century, it was fashionable to use their feathers, as well as the whole stuffed bird, to decorate women’s hats and other garments.
However, the main reason that the Red Siskin was overharvested was to supply breeders who wanted to hybridize them with the domestic canary in order to produce red canaries as pets. Across the world, but especially in northern Europe, the quest to produce a stable line of “red factor” canaries became so popular that Red Siskins were very quickly depleted from their natural habitat in Venezuela. Very sadly, many if not most of the Red Siskin harvested from the wild perished in transport and never even made it to the intended destination. As a result of this rapid decline, the Red Siskin was the first species to receive protected status in Venezuela in the 1950s. Nonetheless, illegal harvest of Red Siskin for the pet trade continues.
The Red Siskin has historically been distributed in deciduous tropical forests, in hills near the Andes and the coastal mountains. Large areas of habitat have been progressively degraded or lost due to logging, agriculture, urbanization, and other human activities. Fortunately, our research and historical reports of Red Siskins thriving in cities suggests that this species is adaptable to a variety of human activities. If conservation interventions to reduce illegal harvest and to support recovery are successful, we believe the Red Siskin will someday thrive again.
In Guyana, anthropogenic fire presents an additional threat to habitat and nesting sites of the Red Siskin. The intentional burning of the savanna is a traditional practice that has been carried out for a variety of reasons, such as the management of pasture for grazing livestock and as a method of corralling prey when hunting. In recent years, intentional and accidental setting of fires has become more destructive, leading to loss of important and fragile habitats. This practice could have catastrophic consequences for the Red Siskin if not properly controlled, especially during periods of extreme drought. In response, the South Rupununi Conservation Society and some of their conservation partners are studying this issue and testing solutions based in education and behavior change campaigns.
Inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity are an important concern for any species that persists in very low numbers for long periods of time, like the Red Siskin. For example, inbreeding can reduce fertility and resistance to disease, and the loss of genetic diversity reduces the ability of the species to adapt to environmental changes. Another concern is that females may hybridize with other species more frequently if there are too few male Red Siskins to mate with. This could lead to loss of the species genetic identity, a process sometimes referred to as genetic swamping.