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 Puerto Rican Parrot,
Yellow-shouldered Blackbird, Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon

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
Puerto Rican parrot
Puerto Rican parrot by Tom MacKenzie, 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 region are the Puerto Rican parrot (up 354 percent since 1967), yellow-shouldered blackbird (up 176 percent since 1976) and Puerto Rican plain pigeon (up 363 percent since 1970).

“It’s encouraging to see so many birds on the road to recovery,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida director. “And the fact that even some species pushed to the very brink of extinction are increasing is tribute to the power of the Endangered Species Act.”

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.

“Without question, recovering species is extremely difficult work,” said Lopez. “But this report is the latest evidence that we can recover species if we’re willing to do that work.”

Among the birds in today’s report:

Yellow-shouldered blackbird — By the time this glossy black bird with striking yellow “shoulder” patches was protected as endangered in 1976, forest clearing in Puerto Rico to make room for sugarcane plantations had pushed it to the brink of extinction. The species’ downward trend was reversed after artificial nesting-box efforts were initiated to compensate for the loss of large trees, expanding the post-breeding roost count of 272 birds in 1982 to 750 in 2012.

Puerto Rican parrot — By the time this 11-inch-long, emerald-green beauty that once filled Puerto Rico’s tropical canopies was protected as endangered in 1967, only 24 individuals remained in the wild. Due to habitat protection, an intensive captive-breeding program and reintroduction efforts, by 2014 the population had increased to 109 wild birds and 409 captive birds.

Puerto Rican plain pigeon — By the time this once-abundant bird was protected as endangered in 1970, hunting and forest clearing for agriculture had reduced its population to a few hundred birds. A hunting ban, restoration of forest habitat and a captive-breeding program helped it increase to more than 9,500 by 2010.

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