Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2016

Contact: Ryan Beam, (503) 250-1869,

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

Recovering Southwest Birds Include American Peregrine Falcon, California Condor, Bald Eagle

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— 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
California condor
California condor 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 Southwestern endangered birds improving across the region are the American peregrine falcon (up 4,131 percent since 1975) and the California condor (up 391 percent since 1968).

“It is remarkable that we’ve been able to put critically imperiled birds like peregrine falcons and condors on the road the recovery,” said Ryan Beam, one of the researchers on the project. “And without the Endangered Species Act, it simply wouldn’t have happened.”

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.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do to make sure these birds continue increasing,” Beam said. “But it’s heartening to see so many birds doing so well under the care of the Endangered Species Act.”

Among the birds in today’s report:

California condor — America’s largest bird, with a wingspan of almost 10 feet, was protected as endangered in 1967 after DDT, lead poisoning and shootings had pushed it to the brink of extinction. By 1968 only 55 birds survived in the wild. But thanks to a captive-breeding program and reintroduction efforts, by 2015, 270 individuals were living in three wild populations — two in California and one in the Grand Canyon area of Arizona.

American peregrine falcon — The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird on Earth, capable of reaching speeds up to 200 miles per hour. However, it could not outrun the devastating impacts of DDT, and the population of this subspecies of the peregrine, which spends both its summers and winters in North America, fell to just 39 pairs in 1975. After the species received federal protection in 1970, captive-breeding efforts, nest protections and the banning of DDT allowed its population to grow to more than 1,600 pairs by 1999, when the bird was declared recovered and delisted.

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 three known nesting pairs in Arizona and none in New Mexico. But with DDT banned and federal protections in place, the bird’s population rebounded to 43 nesting pairs in Arizona by 2006 and as many as four nesting pairs have been spotted in New Mexico. By the time the species was delisted 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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