10 Endangered and Threatened Birds of America

Two geese walking in tall grass

John and Karen Hollingsworth / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The United States was once home to a rich and diverse avian population, with birds such as the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, and the dusky seaside sparrow winging through our skies. But several centuries of land development, hunting, and human encroachment have thrown our nation’s birds into crisis, resulting in extinction for some and threatened status for many. As for January 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that more than 90 species are threatened or endangered. These are birds currently under threat in the United States, including the Hawaiian geese pictured here.

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Golden-Cheeked Warbler

Photo: Steve Maslowski/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia) lives and breeds in central Texas — specifically around the Edwards Plateau, Lampasas Cut Plain and Central Mineral Region. Ranching, agriculture and land development have contributed to the decline of this small, smart bird’s habitat. And while habitat destruction destroys its nesting grounds in Texas, deforestation in Central America is wiping out its wintering lands. There are no current reliable estimates on how many of the birds remain.

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California condor

Photo: Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The endangered California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) was once a prolific bird, which has become an iconic symbol of the American West. However, the largest flying bird in North America has suffered a serious drop in numbers due to hunting and encroachment on its habitat. In 1980, only 25 of the birds remained in the wild. Due to a captive-breeding program, their numbers have increased to around 276 wild birds. However, their numbers remain threatened due to continued habitat destruction, as well as poisoning from lead bullets (left behind in carcasses later scavenged) and pesticides.

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Hawaiian goose or nene

Photo: Jörg Hempel/Wikimedia Commons

The nene is the official state bird of Hawaii. Also known as the Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis), the bird was declared endangered in 1967 with an estimated population of less than 30 birds. They live only in the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai, and human encroachment is blamed for their diminishing numbers. Today, the birds are protected, number 2,500 as of 2011 and they're considered threatened.

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I’iwi or scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper

Photo: Ludovic Hirlimann/Wikimedia Commons

The threatened 'i'iwi, also known as the scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper, is among the most common native land birds of Hawaii. However, its numbers are decreasing. Vestiaria coccinea is under threat from habitat destruction and climate change, as well as the proliferation of disease. "Working with the state, our conservation partners and the public will be crucial as we work to recover the 'i'iwi," Mary Abrams, project leader for the USFWS's Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. "The Service is committed to building on our record of collaborative conservation to protect Hawaii's native species."

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Kirtland’s warbler

Photo: Joel Trick/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The endangered Kirtland’s warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) makes its home in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. Experts often call it the “bird of fire” because its survival depends on the burning of its native jack pine forest for nesting, but when people began suppressing natural fires, the bird’s existence was placed in jeopardy. In 1971, only 201 pairs of the bird remained. Habitat preservation, mainly by planting jack pines, has since resulted in the population returning. Today, more than 1,800 males exist in the wild, prompting officials to consider future removal of the animals from the endangered species list.

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Whooping crane

Photo: Klaus Nigge/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The endangered whooping crane (Grus Americana) has enjoyed a significant return in recent years. Habitat loss and hunting left only 15 whopping cranes alive in 1941, but with the help of biologists, their numbers rebounded to as many as 214 in 2005. However, due to a lack of adult birds, the animals needed to be taught how to migrate north to their breeding grounds. From 2009 to 2016, whopping cranes followed a lightweight plane from western Florida to Wisconsin and back each year, but low population growth — there were about 93 cranes in the wild as of 2016 — led the federal government to withdraw support of the project.

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Gunnison sage-grouse

Photo: Carlos H. Pacheco/Wikimedia Commons

The Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) lives south of the Colorado River in Colorado and Utah. Loss of habitat has been extremely detrimental for the animal, which requires a variety of land types for its survival, including sagebrush and wetlands. It is currently on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's threatened list.

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Piping plover

Photo: Mdf/Wikimedia Commons

The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) makes its home along the Northern Great Plains and Atlantic coast, and those birds are considered threatened; it’s the birds in the Great Lakes region that are endangered. These small shorebirds are primarily threatened by the development of the coastal beaches where they nest. They are incredibly sensitive to human presence and will abandon their nests if disturbed.

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Photo: R. Kohley/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The endangered millerbird (Acrocephalus familiaris) is an elusive bird found on Nihoa Island in Hawaii. In 1923, the millerbird found on the nearby Laysan Island was believed to have gone extinct due to the introduction of rabbits. It is unclear if the millerbirds on Nihoa Island are a separate species. Nihoa birds are extremely hard to study, due to the inaccessibility of the island and fear that human inferences will harm the animals. Experts remain extremely worried about the bird’s fragile existence.

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Ivory-billed woodpecker

Photo: Arthur A. Allen/Jerry A. Payne/Wikimedia Commons

The critically endangered ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) has become an icon for the symbolic loss — and quest to restore — the American bird. Among the world's largest woodpeckers, the 20-inch long bird used to flourish in the swampy forests of the South and lower Midwest. Due to habitat loss from development and heavy logging, the bird is now questionably extinct. The last confirmed sighting of the bird was in 1987, and since then, experts have been on a quest to find and restore the bird. As of 2017, the bird's status is still debated, with inconclusive photographic and video evidence circulating.