14 of North America's most endangered birds

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florida grasshopper sparrow

credit: Dan Irizarry

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

"Despite extensive habitat restoration, they're on a toboggan run to oblivion. And unless managers can figure out and reverse what's wrong in the next year or two, this bird will almost surely be gone--the first known bird extinction in the continental United States since the loss, in 1987, of the dusky seaside sparrow, once native to the marshes of Florida's Merritt Island and St. John River Valley," writes Ted Williams in Audubon Magazine, in an article from the March-April 2013 issue. This fascinating and detailed article tells you everything you may want to know about this interesting bird, and, perhaps more importantly, delves into what it takes to save such a species from extinction and why it is important.

The sparrow species had around 2,000 individuals left in 2008, and now there are somewhere around 200 and declining. Conservationists are working hard with a captive breeding program begun just this spring, but thinking about the prospects for the species is nerve-racking at best. It will take a lot of effort and no small amount of luck to bring this specie back from so near the brink of extinction. If you find yourself wondering why we do or should worry over a bird species as seemingly plain as a small sparrow, a bird whose niche may be filled by other species of sparrows easily enough, consider what Williams has to say about it:

"Maybe the only explanation for people who have to ask why the Florida grasshopper sparrow matters is this: It matters not because it is a source of enrichment for human lives (although it is), not because it is a source of medicine or agent of pest control (it is probably neither), not because it is an "indicator species" that tells us we haven't completely wrecked our habitat, not because it is anything, only because it is."

Species matter because they exist. And when their loss is caused by our hands, the disappearance is all the more grave.

Luckily, some endangered bird species have slightly more sunny outlooks, like the next bird in our slideshow. Click through for its story.