Does the Endangered Species Act Really Help Birds?

Bald Eagle (Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract, Maryland 2016)
Bald Eagle (Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract, Maryland 2016)

As an avid birder and bird watcher, I have of course heard about endangered bird species before. Like most birders, I see articles about birds in trouble and get requests for donations, etc. all the time, but do you ever wonder if being listed as an endangered species really makes a difference to these birds? You know like, “Is it just hopeless?” And do bird species that are listed ever get off the list? This morning I was just poking around online and I stumbled on a website that answers these questions. Sound interesting? I thought so.

The Birds & The Endangered Species Act site hosts a report entitled, “A Wild Success: A Systematic Review of Bird Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act.” Ok, wait! I know this might like pretty sound pretty dry reading, but I actually found it easy to read and understand and it’s not overly long. Put together by the Center For Biological Diversity, it looks at how the Endangered Species Act has been working out for bird species in the US. The site also has a map for Endangered Bird Trends where you can click on different regions of the US to learn about birds listed in each region, with quick facts, a chart and brief summary info. Do you know what birds are on the list for your region and which ones have come off? I didn’t.

You probably already know that one of the act’s biggest success stories was to get the Bald Eagle off the endangered list. Here in central Maryland, while they were on the edge of extinction back in the 1970’s, we see Bald Eagles soaring up in the skies over our lakes and waterways quite often now. You really don’t have to look that hard to find them anymore. But did you know about the American Peregrine Falcon and the Brown Pelican, two species that have also come off the list? Both of these are species I’ve seen here in Maryland in the past year. Other birds in my area, like the Piping Plover and the Kirtland’s Warbler are still on the list, but their populations are increasing.

One big take-away for me was that just putting a bird on the list doesn’t magically fix things so that they can come off the list in just a couple years. When a bird goes on the list, there is a plan created for saving them that typically spans decades. That’s the way things work in the natural world. It’s one of those, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” kind of situations.

The report’s summary explains:

We found that the Endangered Species Act has been extraordinarily successful in recovering imperiled birds:

  • Eighty-five percent of bird populations in the continental United States increased or stabilized while protected by the Act.
  • The average population increase was 624 percent.
  • Birds from the Pacific Islands (Hawaii, Guam, Palau and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands) recovered less robustly, with 61 percent either increased or stabilized.
  • On average birds have been protected under the Act for 36 years, but their federal recovery plans estimate they need 63 years to fully recover; thus, few birds were expected to have recovered by 2015.
  • Birds are recovering at the rate expected by federal recovery plans.

If you have a few minutes today, check out this site for yourself. As a fellow bird lover, I think you’ll find it interesting.

Want to learn more about how the Endangered Species Act works?

The National Wildlife Federation has a page explaining how the act works in easy to understand language (something I personally really appreciate!) 

The US Fish & Wildlife Service is the main administrator of the act and so has a series of web pages on their site with all kinds of info on the act.

If you want look into the current politics of the act from a birding point of view, the Audubon Society has a February 8, 2017 article on: The Endangered Species Act Is Under Attack. But How Much Trouble Is It In?”

Hope you find this interesting and helpful!


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