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 Since Being Protected

Recovering Birds Include the Pacific Northwest’s Western Snowy Plover,
Arctic Peregrine Falcon, Aleutian Canada Goose

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
Western snowy plover
Western snowy plover by D. Pitkin, 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 the Pacific Northwest are the western snowy plover (up 96 percent since 1993), Arctic peregrine falcon (up 619 percent since 1970) and the Aleutian Canada goose (up 8,184 percent since 1963).

“The Endangered Species Act has done a truly remarkable job of saving and recovering America’s most-imperiled birds — even species pushed to the brink of extinction, like the Aleutian Canada goose,” said the Center’s Jeff Miller. “Thanks in no small part to the conservation tools provided by the Act, we still have snowy plovers and peregrine falcons.”

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.
  • 64 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.

“It’s great not only that the Act has helped us save and recover these birds, but that it’s helped us repair and recover the beaches and waterways so important to all of us,” said Miller. “And although there’s much work still to be done, it shows that whenever we have the will, we can protect and recover species.”

Among the birds in today’s report:

Western snowy plover — By the time these energetic shorebirds were protected as threatened in 1993, unchecked development and motorized recreational uses of their shoreline nesting sites, along with encroachment of invasive European beach grass, had reduced their population to about 1,500 adults. Following Endangered Species Act protections, restoration of beach habitat, protection of nests from predators, and management of vehicles on beaches helped the population recover to more than 2,900 adults by 2015.

Arctic peregrine falcon — By the time the fastest bird on Earth — capable of flying up to 200 miles per hour during dives — received federal protection in 1970, its population had already fallen by 80 percent due to DDT. But following protection, the banning of DDT and an intensive reintroduction program, the population slowly rebounded. Today this migratory subspecies of falcon has recovered and is no longer on the endangered species list. 

Aleutian Canada goose Thought to have been driven to extinction by habitat destruction, hunting and the introduction of foxes to their nesting islands, these geese gained federal protection in 1967 after a small population was discovered on a remote Alaskan island in the Aleutian chain. Hunting bans, predator control, the creation of national wildlife refuges and translocation efforts helped the goose population grow from only 790 in 1974 to 54,500 in 2002, the year after the species was declared recovered.

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. But with DDT banned and federal protections in place, the bird’s Oregon population grew from only 20 nesting pairs in 1971 to 470 by 2007. In Washington the mid-1970s population of only about 100 nesting pairs had increased to 835 by 2005. By the time the species was declared recovered in 2007, the number of bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 had soared 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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