Global population collapse in a superabundant migratory bird and illegal trapping in China

Persecution and overexploitation by humans are major causes of species extinctions. Rare species, often confined to small geographic ranges, are usually at highest risk, whereas extinctions of superabundant species with very large ranges are rare. The Yellow-breasted Bunting (Emberiza aureola) used to be one of the most abundant songbirds of the Palearctic, with a very large breeding range stretching from Scandinavia to the Russian Far East. Anecdotal information about rapid population declines across the range caused concern about unsustainable trapping along the species’ migration routes. We conducted a literature review and used long-term monitoring data from across the species’ range to model population trend and geographical patterns of extinction. The population declined by 84.3–94.7% between 1980 and 2013, and the species’ range contracted by 5000 km. Quantitative evidence from police raids suggested rampant illegal trapping of the species along its East Asian flyway in China.