Audubon Society Names America's 10 Most Endangered Birds

WASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2006 (ENS) - The ivory-billed woodpecker and the California condor top the list of America's 10 most endangered birds issued today by the National Audubon Society. The 100 year old conservation group says it is reporting on the survival of the nation's rarest bird species to show how heavily they depend upon the Endangered Species Act, which itself is now endangered.

The other birds on the most endangered list are the whooping crane, Gunnison sage-grouse, Kirtland's warbler, piping plover, Florida scrub-jay, ashy storm-petrel, golden-cheeked warbler, and Kittlitz's murrelet.

These 10 most endangered bird species face a range of threats such as development pressures, invasive species, and global warming, Audubon says.

In addition, the Audubon report reserves a special section for the 10 most endangered Hawaiian birds. Hawaii has more endangered species than any other state, and many of them are endemic forest birds. These birds face threats from rats, cats and mongoose that prey on eggs and fledglings; invasive bird species, avian diseases, and loss of habitat to development.

Audubon released the report as the Senate considers legislation that the group says would undermine the protections provided to endangered birds by the Endangered Species Act.


Ivory-billed woodpecker was thought to be extinct until one was found in an Arkansas wildlife refuge in 2004. (Photo courtesy USDA)
In September 2005, the House passed HR 3824, sponsored by Congressman Richard Pombo, a California Republican. This bill, called "The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act," eliminates protection for critical habitat. It allows development projects to proceed regardless of impacts on endangered birds and wildlife, provides payments to landowners as compensation for complying with the law, and includes special exemptions for pesticide manufacturers.

Now moving through the Senate is the “Collaboration and Recovery of Endangered Species Act” (S 2110), sponsored by Senator Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican.

This bill would allow an application for listing a species under the Endangered Species Act to be unacted on for as long as three years. It would allow developers to destroy critical habitat of a listed species in return for preserving habitat for another species, create a recovery planning process that would allow industry to rewrite and overrule the decisions of wildlife experts, and require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide a “provisional permit” for any project on private property, except for “ground clearing,” unless a recovery plan is already in place.

Senator Crapo believes that new incentives for private landowners must be put into the law to protect additional habitat for species’ recovery.

In February, the Idaho Legislature passed a measure approving the Crapo approach to changing the Endangered Species Act. The senator said, “We need the input of states and landowners in species recovery and this bill encourages that input. More and more people are agreeing we need to put our efforts into on-the-ground collaborative work and not into arguments and lawsuits. The result will be better for people and better for species.”

If the Senate passes the Crapo bill, a conference committee would be appointed to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the legislation. Audubon says both versions "represent significant steps back for the protection of America’s most vulnerable birds and wildlife."

Since its enactment 33 years ago, Audubon says the Endangered Species Act has been "profoundly successful in protecting species, including our national symbol, the bald eagle."

A report published March 16 by the American Bird Conservancy provides more evidence for conservationist support of the Endangered Species Act by demonstrating that the Endangered Species Act is saving America’s rarest birds. Of 43 birds listed under the Act that breed in the continental United States, 44 percent have increased since listing, and a further 19 percent are stable, or have been stabilized by conservation measures.

"Perhaps the Endangered Species Act can be improved, but it is important to remember that it is already working as it should to save species from extinction and recover their populations - an extremely difficult task even with sufficient financial support," said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy.


American bald eagle. Once considered endangered, the bald eagle was downlisted to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act in 1995. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
"The Act has been a major success, and is limited primarily by lack of funding," Fenwick said. "The American people strongly support endangered species conservation, and do not want to see the Act weakened to benefit minority interest groups," he said.

"Today it isn't hard to see a bald eagle in most states," Fenwick pointed out. "If not for the Endangered Species Act, you'd need to fly to Alaska to see one."

In addition to the Endangered Species Act successes documented by the new Audubon report, the American Bird Conservancy says other success stories include the brown pelican, peregrine falcon, Aleutian Canada goose, and the San Clemente loggerhead shrike.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, 68 percent of listed species are stable or improving. The longer a species is listed under the act, the more likely it is to be improving, Audubon says.

The Audubon's 10 Most Endangered Birds of 2006

  1. Ivory-billed Woodpecker: Once this species made most of the southeastern United States its home, but it was considered extinct for decades until a single bird was spotted in Arkansas in 2004.

  2. California Condor: The california condor became extinct in the wild in 1987, when the last six wild birds known were captured and placed in a captive-breeding recovery program. Now the condor exists only where it has been reintroduced, in open rangelands, coniferous forest, oak savanna, and rocky open-country scrubland areas of southern and baja california and Arizona.

    In November 2005, the California Department of Fish and Game, Habitat Conservation and Planning Branch estimated that the population had reached about 270 individuals, including 145 in captivity. The survival of the California Condor is almost entirely attributable to its listing as an endangered species, Audubon says in its report.

  3. Whooping Crane: Whooping cranes once bred across the central prairies of the northern United States and Canada, wintering in the highlands of northern Mexico, the Texas Gulf coast, and portions of the Atlantic coast. Beginning in the late 1800s, the species declined rapidly, and by 1941, only about 20 cranes remained in the wild.

    Captive breeding after the crane was included on the endangered Species list in 1967, has rebuilt the population to about 340 Whooping cranes in the wild and 135 in captivity.

  4. Gunnison Sage-Grouse: Once native to parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, Gunnison Sage-Grouse populations have plummeted as sagebrush habitat has been lost and degraded due to development, resource extraction, and agriculture. Now only seven populations exist in isolated areas of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Not yet listed under the Act despite a number of petitions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse population is estimated at between 2,000 to 6,000 during the spring breeding season.


    Kirtland's warbler winters in the Bahamas and in the Turks, Caicos, and Hispaniola islands and flies north to Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario for the summer months. (Photo by Ron Austing courtesy USFWS)
  5. Kirtland’s Warbler: This migratory songbird nests under trees in young jack pine forests in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Fire suppression activities have decreased its habitat, and competition for nest space with cowbirds also has destroyed the warbler populations.

    In 1989, the total Kirtland’s Warbler population in Michigan was believed to be around 200. Since then, intensive programs to promote suitable habitat and trap cowbirds have worked. In 2005, a state survey of male Kirtland’s Warblers counted 1,415 singing males. If all have mates, the total population is around 2,800.

  6. Piping Plover: This small shorebird nests on beaches and sandflats along the Atlantic coast, the Great lakes, and large rivers and lakes in the Great Plains on the United States and Canada.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the entire species of Piping Plover as either endangered or threatened. With about 6,100 birds, the population has increased after years of intensive management. Federal and state programs include predator fences, restrictions on motorized vehicles in the vicinity of flightless chicks, and stewards to control and monitor nesting sites on public and some private land.

  7. Florida Scrub-Jay: Facing extinction, this jay depends on rare areas of oak scrub that must be renewed periodically by fires started by lightning. By minimizing the occurrence of fire, development has fragmented the species' habitat. Estimated at 10,000 in 1991, the population was guestimated at 8,000 last year.

  8. Ashy Storm-Petrel: From 50 to 70 percent of the breeding population is located on Southeast Farallon island in the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge and on California’s Channel Islands. With its already small population having declined by half in the last 50 years, the species "should be listed as endangered," says Audubon, although the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists it instead as a “declining species of management concern.” An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 birds remain.

  9. Golden-cheeked Warbler: This migratory songbird breeds only in Ashe juniper woodlands in Central Texas. Between 1960 and 1980, this habitat was reduced by development by about a quarter. Anticipation that the warbler would be federally listed as an endangered species prompted landowners to deliberately destroy more habitat in 1990. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now lists the golden-cheeked warbler as endangered. The population is estimated between 9,600 and 32,000.

  10. Kittlitz’s Murrelet: This small seabird feeds in the coastal regions of Alaska where glaciers meet the sea and nests a few miles inland in the mountains and on cliff faces. Populations have dropped almost 85 percent in Prince William Sound, as much as 75 percent in the Malaspina Forelands, and more than 80 percent in the Kenai Fjords area in recent decades. Ornithologists consider it critically endangered but, because little is known about this species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not listed it, although it was placed on the candidate list in 2004.