Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2016

Contact: Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185,

Analysis: 85 Percent of Continental U.S. Birds Protected by Endangered Species Act
Have Increased or Stabilized Population Since Being Protected

In California, Recovering Birds Include Condor, San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike,
California Brown Pelican, Inyo California Towhee

OAKLAND, Calif.— Eighty-five percent of continental United States birds protected under the Endangered Species Act increased or stabilized their population size since being protected, according to a new report by the Center for Biological Diversity. The average population increase was 624 percent. 

Average Recovery of Birds
California brown pelican
California brown pelican by John Pearsall, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

A Wild Success: A Systematic Review of Bird Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act is the first-ever study to examine the year-by-year population size of all 120 bird species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Drawing on more than 1,800 scientific population surveys, the analysis concludes that the Act has recovered imperiled birds at the rate and magnitude intended by its congressional creators and administrative overseers.

Among the endangered birds improving in California are the California condor (up 391 percent since 1968), the California brown pelican (up 1,464 percent since 1970) and the San Clemente loggerhead strike (up 224 percent since 1975).

“Thanks to the Endangered Species Act we have California condors and brown pelicans soaring across the landscape today,” said the Center’s Jeff Miller. “And all across the country, the Act is showing we can recover even our most endangered species if we have the will.”

Key findings of the report:

  • 85 percent of continental U.S. birds increased their population size or stabilized since being protected under the Endangered Species Act.
  • The average population increase was 624 percent.
  • 61 percent of Pacific Island (Hawaii, Guam, Palau and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands) birds have increased their population size or stabilized since being protected under the Endangered Species Act. The weaker performance is due to lower funding levels, smaller population sizes at the time of Endangered Species Act listing, and more species being threatened by difficult to manage invasive predators and diseases.
  • Few birds were expected to recover by 2015 because they have been protected under the Act for just 36 years on average, while their federal recovery plans estimate 63 years is needed.
  • Birds are recovering at the rate expected by federal recovery plans.
  • Endangered birds fared much better than unprotected birds, which on average declined 24 percent since 1974. This is because endangered birds are being actively managed, while common birds generally are not.

“Clearly there’s much work to be done to continue the recovery of many of these bird populations that we’ve pushed to the brink of extinction,” said Miller. “But as this analysis demonstrates, if we stay the course and continue to put resources to this important task we can succeed.”

Among the California birds in today’s report:

California condor America’s largest bird, with a wing-span of almost 10 feet, was protected as endangered in 1967 after DDT, lead poisoning and shootings had pushed it to the brink of extinction. By 1968 only 55 birds survived in the wild. But thanks to a captive-breeding program and reintroduction efforts, by 2015, 270 individuals were living in three wild populations — two in California and one in the Grand Canyon area of Arizona.

California brown pelican — With their population decimated first to provide feathers for women’s hats in the 1890s, then by fishermen who feared them as competitors, then by DDT, these graceful fliers, known for their dive-bombing fishing tactics, had been reduced to 748 known nesting sites by the time they were awarded federal protection in 1970. After the subsequent protection of nesting areas and the banning of DDT, the number of nesting sites increased to more than 11,600 by 2009, when the species was declared recovered under the Endangered Species Act.

San Clemente loggerhead shrike — The Southern California island habitat of this small, black-masked bird that uses its hooked beak to kill insects, mice, lizards and birds was so degraded by non-native sheep, pigs and goats that by the time it was protected as endangered in 1977 only about 50 remained. Following efforts by the U.S. Navy, which controls San Clemente Island, to remove non-native predators, and a reintroduction program, the shrike’s population grew to 136 individuals by 2013.

Inyo California towhee — The single mountain range in Southern California where this medium-sized, gray-brown songbird lives was so degraded by overgrazing and off-road vehicles that only 175 remained by the time it was protected as threatened in 1987. By 2011 efforts to reduce grazing, control feral animals and regulate off-road vehicle use had helped the population increase to 729 birds.

Read more in the report and about other Endangered Species Act successes here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back