A new study has revealed that more than half a billion breeding birds have vanished in the European Union in the last forty years. Approximately 600 million breeding birds, or one in every six, have vanished in the EU since 1980.

"What's worrying is that it's been happening almost unnoticed, invisibly, quietly in the background," Richard Gregory from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told NewsChain.

Since the 1980s, the number of sparrows has halved, and there are now roughly 75 million fewer curious and clever starlings copying the sounds of the world around us - a 60%decrease.

The majority of the decreases have happened in species associated with agricultural and grassland habitats, but it is also occurring in urban areas.

Habitat loss, the significant drop in insect species, pollution, and illness - all the typical suspects contributing to the bigger mass extinction event we're witnessing - are likely to be among the causes.

For the time being, this loss of birds is primarily from abundant species, with a 25% extinction rate for common species and a 4% extinction rate for rare species, so there haven't been many extinctions.

Because of our long history of birdwatching, bird population studies are among the most advanced of any animal group. Thanks to amateur ornithologists led by specialists, we have a wealth of historical data, which the current study makes effective use of.

Scientists looked at 378 of the 445 native bird species that breed in Europe, using data from two databases.

Previous smaller studies had already revealed these alarming decreases across Europe; unfortunately, this pattern continued over a broader range of species and the longer time frame studied by the new study. In 2019, a comparable study in North America discovered the same thing.

All of this data points to a failure to meet existing biodiversity targets and calls for radical change across sectors of human society as an emerging Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework takes shape,naccording to the team's paper.

However, not all bird species are in decline. In fact, the number of seven species of raptors has increased in recent decades.

One explanation is that fewer pesticides are used at the municipal level. Another is that many previously unprotected species have earned that status.

The situation isn't entirely hopeless, the team emphasized. Conservation and preservation efforts, along with proper execution will help increase the numbers.

This research was published in Ecology and Evolution.