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Why is it endangered?

Two main human activities have brought Red Siskins close to extinction: trapping and habitat destruction.

People have trapped these birds for many decades because of their red plumage. In the early twentieth century it was fashionable to use the feathers and even the whole bird as decorations for women’s hats and other clothing articles. Red Siskins also were deliberately hybridized with domestic canaries to create a “red factor” variety of canary. This avicultural practice became very popular in the early 20th century and was the main cause for dramatic decline for this species. Most birds died in transit across the ocean and traffickers made sure to only provide males, not females, so they could not be propagated in captivity, thus preserving their market for wild caught birds. Illegal trapping and trade of Red Siskins remains the primary threat to the survival of this species.

Habitat for the Red Siskin has also been lost in Venezuela because it likes to live where people like to live; in tropical deciduous forest, in the foothills near the Andes and the coastal mountains. Part of the habitat needed by Red Siskins has been degraded or transformed for logging, agriculture, human settlements and other activities. Fortunately, our field research suggests that Red Siskins can tolerate a variety of human activities and that remaining habitat might be able to support much larger populations. Still, habitat loss might negatively impact the availability of nesting sites.

In Guyana, intentional burning of the savanna is a traditional practice performed for a variety of reasons such as grazing management for livestock and to flush prey for hunting. However, this practice could potentially have catastrophic consequences for Red Siskin habitat if not carefully applied, especially during periods of severe drought.

If Red Siskin populations continue to decline, inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity could become additional threats in the wild. Inbreeding can reduce disease resistance and fertility, and loss of genetic diversity reduces the species’ ability to adapt to change. Well-meaning people who release hybrid Red Siskins (with some mixed ancestry from canaries or other birds) could also have a negative impact on the genetic health of the species.