10 of North America's Most Endangered Birds

A majestic California condor with an orange head and black feathers standing on a rock.
California Condor.

Steve Johnson / Getty Images

The number of endangered and threatened birds in North America is alarming. Threats from climate change, pollution, and habitat loss plague these amazing, unique, and beautiful birds. Some have been aided by conservation efforts including captive breeding, nest building, and bird sanctuaries. Learn about some of the species that need our care and attention.

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Piping Plover

A piping plover with bright orange legs and orange beak standing on a beach.

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

The piping plover, an adorable little shorebird, is considered endangered or threatened, depending on location. Found in the Northeast, Great Plains, and Great Lakes regions, this species experienced a dramatic decline during the 19th and early 20th centuries after being hunted for its feathers, which were used in women's hats. Thanks to conservation efforts that began decades ago, the population is 8,000 — and numbers have been increasing since 1991. Critical nesting habitats are now protected in many states where the birds breed and feed, with some beaches entirely off-limits during critical times in the nesting season.

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Gunnison Sage-grouse

Gunnison sage-grouse with fluffy white plumage and dramatic tail feathers standing in a field.

Carlos H. Pacheco / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The ground-dwelling Gunnison sage-grouse is endangered and has a habitat confined to seven geographically isolated populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. About the size of a chicken, during mating season, the males put on quite a display by fanning their spiky tail feathers and making a loud popping noise with the air sacs on their chests as they try to impress the females. In addition to teaming up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, conservation efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife involve building relationships with landowners to protect the sagebrush habitat, as much of it is on private property.

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Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

Florida grasshopper sparrow tending to its nest with two fluffy baby birds with open beaks.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Florida grasshopper sparrow is a grassland bird found only in south and central Florida. This small, non-migratory bird is endangered due primarily to the loss of the prairie habitat on which it relies. Conservation efforts are centered around prescribed burns to improve the sparrow’s habitat. The bird is known for one of its calls, which resembles the buzzing sound of a grasshopper.

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California Condor

A California condor in flight against a backdrop of rocky mountains.

Adam Jones / Getty Images

This majestic species, the largest terrestrial bird in North America with a wingspan of about 9 feet, is critically endangered. Due to habitat destruction, poaching, and poisoning from lead and DDT, the population of California condors plummeted during the 20th century. A massive conservation effort that included capturing all remaining condors and starting a captive breeding program has helped to bring their numbers from a record low of 22 in 1982 to 518 in 2019, with about 337 birds living in the wild. You can see condors soaring from the Grand Canyon to the California coast and in two condor sanctuaries — the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary in the San Rafael Wilderness and the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in the Los Padres National Forest.

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Whooping Crane

A whooping crane standing in a waterway surrounded by tall green grasses.

Napoleon_Photo / Getty Images

The endangered whooping crane is one of only two crane species in North America (the other is the sandhill crane). Unregulated hunting and habitat encroachment pushed the long-legged wading species to the brink of extinction, with only 16 cranes left in 1941. Massive conservation efforts have helped the species, including captive breeding as well as teaching the captive-bred individuals to migrate north to breeding grounds using an ultralight aircraft. In 2020, whooping cranes numbered 826 — 667 of which were in the wild.

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Florida Scrub-jay

A Florida scrub-jay standing on a post with palm trees behind it.

Canon-Man / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Another threatened Florida bird is the Florida scrub-jay, as its decreasing population is estimated to be between 2,500 and 9,999. This bird has been a distinct species in Florida for at least 2 million years and is the only species of bird endemic to the state. An overgrown scrub habitat due to fire suppression and a decrease in habitat due to residential and commercial development have led to the decline in this species. Florida scrub-jays stay close to home, nesting in a family group and rarely traveling more than a few miles from where they were hatched.

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Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded woodpecker standing against a pine tree.

feathercollector / Getty Images

The beautiful red-cockaded woodpecker could once be found in old growth pine forests all over the East and Southeast. However, as clearing and suppression of natural burning wiped out much of its habitat, the population of this species plummeted and the red-cockaded woodpecker became endangered. The species is a keystone species as their nests, which the birds excavate themselves, become a habitat for other creatures. Conservation efforts to help raise its numbers include drilling nesting cavities into trees and inserting man-made nests to encourage successful breeding.

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Golden-cheeked Warbler

A golden-cheeked warbler with its wings raised standing on a small green plant.

Arthur Morris / Getty Images

The endangered golden-cheeked warbler is a nesting resident of central Texas. Vividly colored, it is the only bird species with a breeding range limited to the state. The golden-cheeked warbler is endangered due to the disappearing habitat of the juniper and oak woodlands where they live and nest, and is also threatened by cowbirds that lay their eggs in the warbler’s nest. In 2019, the golden-cheeked warbler was in danger of losing its protected status, but a judge upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife position that the bird should continue to receive federal protection.

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Marbled Murrelet

A pair of marbled murrelets floating in the Pacific near seaweed.

hstiver / Getty Images

A small endangered seabird that feeds on sardines and anchovies, the marbled murrelet relies primarily on old-growth forests for nesting. In Alaska and other non-forested areas, the bird nests on the ground or on the sides of mountains. Decline of their nesting habitat, commercial fishing, and egg predation by an increased population of crows and jays have caused the decrease in the population of the marbled murrelet.

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California Least Tern

A California least tern offering fish to a mate on the beach.

Hal Beral / Getty Images

The California least tern, an endangered subspecies of least tern, lives on the coasts of California and can be spotted from the southern part of the state to the San Francisco Bay area. Listed as federally endangered since the 1970s, the number of birds has gradually increased due to conservation efforts. California least terns are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty. Their predators include larger birds, raccoons, foxes, and domestic dogs and cats.