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

Recovering Birds Include Whooping Crane, Black-capped Vireo, Aplomado Falcon

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
Whooping crane
Whooping crane by Ryan Hagerty, 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 Texas birds improving are the whooping crane (up 923 percent since 1967) and black-capped vireo (up 7,346 percent since 1987).

“The Endangered Species Act has been a massive success saving America’s most imperiled birds, not just in the Texas but across the country,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director.

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.

Among the Texas birds in today’s report:

Whooping crane — By the time whooping cranes were protected as endangered in 1967, unregulated hunting and habitat destruction had dropped the population of America’s tallest bird to just 43 individuals in the wild and seven captive birds. Intensive conservation efforts in both the United States and Canada, together with the designation and protection of critical habitat in parts of Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas under the Endangered Species Act helped the wild population increase to 440 wild and 161 captive birds by 2014.

Black-capped vireo — By the time this songbird with a glossy black cap, white spectacles and red eyes received Endangered Species Act protection in 1987, unchecked development, fire suppression and overgrazing had reduced its range-wide population to only about 1,000 singing males. Habitat restoration on its Texas breeding grounds, especially on the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood base and surrounding private lands, helped the population rebound to more than 6,000 by 2006.

Aplomado falcon — Due to intense overgrazing, agricultural development, destruction of desert streams and pesticide exposure, this beautiful, red-breasted bird with striking face markings had already disappeared from the United States by the time it was protected as endangered in 1986. By 2013 there were 28 pairs in the reintroduced south Texas population and additional experimental populations in west Texas and southern New Mexico.

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 were 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.

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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