Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2016

Contact: Loyal Mehrhoff, (808) 351-3200,

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

Recovering Birds Include Hawaiian Coot, Hawaiian Stilt, Guam Rail

HONOLULU— 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
Hawaiian stilt
Hawaiian stilt by Daniel Clark, 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 Hawaii are the Hawaiian stilt (up 298 percent since 1970) and the Hawaiian coot (up 748 percent since 1970).

 “It’s a tribute to the Endangered Species Act and the dedicated work of many, many people working on a shoe-string budget that some the most critically endangered birds on the islands have been pulled back from the brink of extinction,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, the Center’s endangered species recovery director. “The job is far from done though, and far too many species are still at grave risk of extinction.  But it’s great to see such strong evidence that we’re making progress.”

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.

“Recovering species is extremely difficult work and some challenges, such as climate change, invasive species, and a lack of funding are especially daunting,” said Mehrhoff. “But it’s clear that given the resources, the federal, state, territorial, and private conservation organizations in the Pacific can, and will, be successful in saving these unique island birds.”

Among the Hawaii and Pacific birds in today’s report:

Hawaiian stilt — Since this slender, black-and-white wading bird was protected as endangered in 1970, wetland protection, management of vegetation and water, and control of introduced predators helped the population of grow from only 529 individuals to more than 2,100 by 2007.

Hawaiian coot — By 1939 populations of these slate-gray, duck-like birds, whose floating nests once dotted ponds and marshes across Hawaii’s main islands, had already dropped low enough to warrant a permanent hunting ban. After the species was protected in 1970, habitat management and control of introduced predators helped it increase from 208 individuals to more than 1,700 by 2007.

Guam rail — Once estimated at 18,000, the population of this flightless, ground-nesting bird was plunging toward extinction when it was protected as endangered in 1984. Predation from invasive brown tree snakes, feral cats and other introduced species eliminated it from the wild. Fortunately a captive-breeding program was established before the species went extinct, and today rails are being introduced on nearby Rota and Cocos Islands, which, as of 2014, were home to an estimated 150 wild 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.

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