Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2016

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190,

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

Recovering Birds Include Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Atlantic Brown Pelican

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— 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
Red-cockcaded woodpecker
Red-cockaded woodpecker by Martjan Lammertink, USFS. 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 Florida are the red-cockaded woodpecker (up 110 percent since 1970), the Atlantic brown pelican (up 268 percent since 1970) and the Atlantic piping plover (up 213 percent since 1986).

“To once again see pelicans and piping plovers routinely patrolling our beaches gives me so much hope,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida director. “And these recovery success stories are a vivid reminder that the Endangered Species Act works.”

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.

“As encouraging as these findings are, no one knows any better than Floridians that we must stay on the task,” said Lopez, “But the evidence shows that with continued diligence we can get the job done.”

Among the Florida birds in today’s report:

Atlantic 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, by the time these graceful fliers, known for their dive-bombing fishing tactics, were protected as endangered in 1970, their entire population east of Mississippi had decreased to fewer than 2,800 nesting pairs. With federal protections and the banning of DDT they increased to more than 10,300 pairs by 1985, when the species was declared recovered.

Red-cockaded woodpecker — When this small, black-capped woodpecker, with a tiny red patch of feathers behind its eyes, was protected as endangered in 1970, widespread destruction of its longleaf pine habitat had decimated its population. Intensive restoration of pine forests, including restoring of a more natural fire regime, has benefited the species, along with dozens of others that depend on longleaf pine. As a result populations have slowly increased in most of its 39 official recovery units to more than 6,300 individuals across the bird’s range.

Atlantic piping plover — These sparrow-sized shorebirds that nest on East Coast shores and spend their winters on Gulf and Caribbean beaches were protected as endangered in 1985 after hunting, trade in feathers for women’s hats, and habitat loss had decimated their populations. Protections put in place to reduce predation and manage recreation and development in plover nesting grounds allowed the population to steadily increase from 550 total breeding pairs in the United States in 1986 to more than 1,600 pairs in 2015.

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.

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