Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2016

Contact: Kierán Suckling, (520) 275-5960,

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

Species Include Atlantic Piping Plover, Roseate Tern, Bald Eagle

WASHINGTON— 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
Roseate tern
Roseate tern by Amanda Boyd, 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 Northeast are Atlantic piping plovers (up 213 percent since 1986) and bald eagles, which have increased to more than 1,000 pairs across the region and by more than 1,800 percent across the nation since 1967.

“To see so many of America’s birds squarely on the road to recovery is a tribute to the power of the Endangered Species Act,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “And the message is clear — if we want to recover species, we can.”

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.

“What this analysis shows is that the difficult job of recovering species takes persistence and time,” said Suckling, “but if we have the fortitude to follow the science and stay on task, we can continue to get the job done.”

Among the Northeast birds in today’s report:

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 1,700 pairs in 2012.

Roseate tern — This tropical tern with a pinkish hue on its breast and a black-and-red bill, which nests along northeastern barrier islands and marshes, had already been eliminated from New Hampshire, Maryland and Virginia by the time it was awarded Endangered Species Act protection in 1987. Despite the ongoing erosion of many tern nesting islands, protection has helped to stabilize the nesting population at about 3,900 in 2015.

Bald eagle — By the time our national bird was protected as endangered in 1967, trophy hunting, feather collecting and DDT had virtually eliminated it from many states. In the 1970s there were only a few dozen nesting bald eagle pairs remaining across the northeastern United States. But with DDT banned and federal protections in place, by the time the species was declared recovered in 2007, its Northeast population had increased to more than 1,000 nesting pairs, with the number across the lower 48 states soaring from just 416 in 1963 to more than 11,000.

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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