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 in Southeast Include Mississippi Sandhill Crane,
Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Wood Stork

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
Mississippi sandhill crane
Mississippi sandhill crane courtesy 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 Southeast are the red-cockaded woodpecker (up 110 percent since 1970), the wood stork (up 61 percent since 1984) and the Mississippi sandhill crane (up 215 percent since 1973).

“The ongoing recovery of sandhill cranes and wood storks and pelicans shows the remarkable power of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida director. “And wildlife and people across the Southeast are benefiting from the Act’s proven ability not only to recover endangered species but the habitats where they live.”

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, there is much work left to be done to fully recover many of our most endangered species,” said Lopez, “But without question, we can get the job done if we’re willing to use all the tools provided by the Endangered Species Act.”

Among the southeastern birds in today’s report:

Mississippi sandhill crane — This lovely bird, known for its trumpeting call and 6-foot wingspan, was once found in coastal wetlands from Georgia to Texas, but by the time it was protected as endangered in 1973, only about 40 individuals remained. In 1975 the 19,306-acre Mississippi Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge was established, and beginning in 1981 captive-raised birds were released into the wild, spurring steady growth in the wild population, which by 2015 had increased to 126 individuals.

Western Gulf 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 1961 these graceful fliers, known for their dive-bombing fishing tactics, had been extirpated in Louisiana, where they are the state bird, and fast approaching the same status in Texas. After being protected as endangered in 1970, the bird’s population in Louisiana and Texas increased from 4 breeding pairs to more than 16,800 by 2007, and two years later it was declared recovered and delisted.

Wood stork — Loss of marshes and swamps in the Southeast, from the draining of wetlands and damming of eastern rivers, caused nests of this large wading bird to decline to just 6,245 in 1984 when it was protected as endangered. As a result of habitat restoration, purchasing of vital wetlands and steady conservation work, the wood stork was downlisted to the less-protective “threatened” status in 2014 and by 2015 had approximately 10,058 nests.

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.

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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