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State of the Birds Report

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Endangered Species

The Long Road to Recovery

In 1973, the United States Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The Act has succeeded more often than it has failed, and some successes have been spectacular, such as the increase of the Aleutian Canada Goose from fewer than 1,000 birds to more than 60,000, and the remarkable comebacks of the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. (The Aleutian race of the Canada Goose and American and arctic races of the Peregrine Falcon are now fully delisted. Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican are partially delisted.)



Snail Kite by Martjan Lammertink


However, the possibility of extinction is still a cold reality for many birds: 13 species may no longer exist in the wild (9 species and one subspecies from Hawaii, plus Bachman’s Warbler, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and Eskimo Curlew). Several species face unprecedented conflict with humans for land at peak economic value (for example, in peninsular Florida, mid-continental prairies, coastal California, Texas hill country, and the Pacific Northwest).

Of the 74 bird species, subspecies, and populations listed in the United States, 30 have increased since listing, 16 have remained stable, 15 have decreased, and 13 are possibly extinct.

In the continental United States, populations of more species that were listed early-on have increased than those listed more recently, according to the American Bird Conservancy. This indicates that long-term conservation efforts can pay great dividends.

An Urgent Need for Protection

Some species languish on the candidate list owing to lack of resources for listing. The highest priority candidates must be quickly protected so that urgently needed conservation actions can be mounted. Funding for endangered Hawaiian birds must be increased: only 4.1% of all state and federal funding for federally listed bird species is spent on Hawaiian birds, which represent 44% of all listed species. 

The most cost-effective solution of all is to stop bird species from declining before they require Endangered Species Act protection. Cooperative conservation measures involving government and tribal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private landowners are essential to keep common birds common and to recover failing bird populations while there is still time.



For more on endangered species, including birds listed in the U.S. island territories, click on the image at left for a full-sized PDF chart showing status, current population, and trends.

Population estimates include captive and wild populations where known. Estimates are approximate except for species with very small populations.


More Information

2006 Piping Plover Census Preliminary Data

2007 Whooping Crane Estimates

2008 Whooping Crane Estimates

American Bird Conservancy American Birds An Endangered Species Act Success Story (PDF)

Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Survey (PDF)

Population Status and Threat Analysis for the Black-capped Vireo

Audubon California Species Monitoring: Snowy Plover

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership--Whooping Crane Reintroduction

BirdLife International Florida Scrub-Jay

Brown Pelican Review

California Clapper Rail Abundance (PDF)

California Condor Conservation

Clapper Rail Study Team

Eider Breeding Population Survey,  Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska 2006

Least Bell’s Vireo summary

Steller’s Eider Spring Migration Surveys Southwest Alaska 2008 (PDF)

Mexican Spotted Owl

The Snail Kite

California Least Tern Breeding Survey, 2007 season

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Brown Pelican (PDF)

Wood Stork Recovery Plan

Wood Stork Fact Sheet (PDF)



  • Inyo California Towhee Five Year Review: Summary and Evaluation, FWS, September 2008
  • Leonard, D. L. Jr. (2008) Recovery expenditures for birds listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act: The disparity between mainland and Hawaiian taxa. Biological Conservation 141: 2054-2061 
  • USFWS, Endangered Species Program 2008 Recovery Data Call


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