Creating Protected Areas and Ensuring Sustainability

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At the pinnacle of ABC's Bird Conservation Framework, we work to prevent extinction of the Western Hemisphere's most endangered birds, creating and sustaining protected areas to provide essential habitat. Priority bird species at this level include Stresemann's Bristlefront in Brazil, Maui Parrotbill in Hawai'i, and Blue-billed Curassow in Colombia.


There have been 10 bird extinctions in the Americas over the past 50 years (most in Hawaii). Today, the majority of endangered birds outside the U.S. have at least some populations in protected areas, but significant gaps remain, and only 15% of the most threatened species can be considered effectively protected from extinction at present. In the U.S., more endangered birds are increasing than are declining, but Hawaiian species in particular need much more recovery support.

EXPLORE ABC's WORK: ExtinctionsIUCN Red List BirdsESA List Birds

The Alala, or Hawaiian Crow, was recently reintroduced in Hawai'i. Photo by Jack Jeffrey


Overall Status of Birds 

(Much of the data generated in this section was derived from BirdLife International's DataZone. Please visit their site for more specifics.)

There have been 10 bird species extinctions in the Americas in the past 50 years (most of these in Hawaii): Kauai Akialoa, Nightingale Reed-warbler, Colombian Grebe, Least Vermilion Flycatcher, Bishop's Oo, Guam Flycatcher, Bridled White-eye, Kamao, Atitlan Grebe, and Kauai Oo.

Five more bird species have been declared extinct in the wild, but still survive in captivity: Alagoas Curassow, Socorro Dove, Guam Rail, Guam Kingfisher, and Hawaiian Crow.

BirdLife International scientists believe that an additional seven bird extinctions have been averted by conservation intervention since 1994 (the year ABC was founded).

Conservation Outcomes

ABC prioritizes its work to halt extinctions by identifying the species at greatest risk, based on the IUCN Red List and the U.S. Endangered Species Act list, then works with partners to identify conservation opportunities and to develop field-based conservation projects, species by species. We especially prioritize sites where Endangered or Critically Endangered species are confined to a single site (Alliance for Zero Extinction or AZE sites).

Lear's Macaw, one of the species ABC and partners have helped bring back from the brink of extinction. Photo by Maggie Forrester

Of the seven bird species extinctions considered to have been averted since 1994 in the Americas, ABC has provided significant support to efforts to prevent four: Junin Grebe, Lear's Macaw, Grenada Dove, and Pale-headed Brushfinch. ABC also played a contributory role in the case of a further species, the California Condor

Action Highlights

ABC supported ECOAN's community outreach and pollution control programs to help conserve the Junin Grebe in Peru.

ABC and AZA supported the development of a vaccine to inoculate captive California Condors against West Nile Virus, and ABC pressed successfully for a ban on lead ammunition in condor range counties in California, since condors scavenge on hunted deer carcasses.

With Biodiversitas, ABC helped expand the Canudos Biological Station in Brazil to 3,649 acres, helping the Lear's Macaw population grow to 1,300, and downgrading the Macaw from Critical to Endangered.

ABC helped to oppose a hotel development, advocated for habitat conservation, and is helping the Grenada Dove Conservation Program control invasive mongooses by providing support for traps to protect the Grenada Dove.

ABC supported a CECIA expedition that rediscovered the Pale-headed Brushfinch, and helped Fundacíon Jocotoco to acquire the 400 acre Yunguilla Reserve in Ecuador, which has helped the brushfinch increase to more than 200 birds, downgrading the species from Critical to Endangered.

Conserving Red List Birds

Overall Status of Birds

According to BirdLife International scientists, there are currently 290 IUCN-Red Listed Endangered (EN) and Critically Endangered (CR) bird species in the Americas.

Habitat loss is considered the principal threat for 214 of these. Forty-three of these have 500 or more individuals in one or more protected area/s affording those species significant protection against imminent extinction; 204 have some protected populations, but 10 have no protected populations at all.

The remaining 76 species are primarily threatened by other factors, such as invasive species, for which equivalent extent of protection metrics are not yet available.

Araripe Manakin with berry by Ciro Albano

Araripe Manakin, a Brazilian species with 100% of its range protected thanks to ABC and partners. Photo by Ciro Albano

Conservation Outcomes

Of the 214 EN and CR primarily threatened by habitat loss, ABC-supported projects (such as bird reserves) currently provide at least some protected habitat for 82 species. ABC has contributed significantly to the conservation of 11 species that are estimated to have at least 500 individuals within protected areas: Speckle-chested Piculet, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Baudo Guan, Boa Nova Tapaculo, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Sabrewing, Royal Sunangel, La Selle Thrush, Lulu's Tody-Flycatcher, and Black-fronted Piping-Guan.

A further three ABC focal species have 100% of their range protected, but still number fewer than 500 individuals: Pale-headed Brushfinch, Araripe Manakin, and Stresemann's Bristlefront.

ABC currently works on 23 of the species threatened primarily by invasive species or other factors – mostly seabirds and Hawaiian birds.

Action Highlights

With partners, ABC has supported the acquisition/protection of 1,052,466 acres of land in 90 protected areas in 14 countries, with 32 partners. We have also supported the planting of 5,617,865 trees and shrubs in reserves and buffer areas, and helped to fence a total of 94 acres at three sites to protect threatened seabirds from predation.

In total, 2,900 bird species have been recorded in ABC-supported reserves (66% of all bird species found in the Americas).

ABC worked with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the governments of Brazil, Chile, and Mexico to make government protection of additional EN and CR species confined to single sites (AZE sites) a global policy priority.

With GECI, ABC has supported the removal of cats from Socorro Island, Mexico, to save the Townsend's Shearwater from extinction.

ABC has supported work that has led to the discovery or rediscovery of eight bird species including the Tachira Antpitta and Yellow-eared Parrot.  ABC has supported nest box programs for seven threatened species including the Blue-throated Macaw and Grey-breasted Parakeet (the latter helping fledge 841 chicks of this EN species).

Conserving ESA List Birds

Overall Status of Birds

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) has different species selection criteria to the IUCN Red List, and it also includes subspecies and populations. ABC uses both lists to help set priorities and to track conservation progress.

In 2016, an ABC report documented that 38 ESA-listed species were increasing, 15 were stable, 24 declining, and 17 were of uncertain status or extinct (most of these being Hawaiian species already close to extinction in 1973 when the Act was passed). The report also revealed that 29 species showed status improvements over the most recent prior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assessment (conducted in 2010), and that only five had deteriorated.

Note that there is considerable overlap between the IUCN Red List, the U.S. Endangered Species Act list, and the U.S. WatchList, so the number of species ABC provides as ones it works on in these categories is not cumulative.

Piping Plover by @Michael Stubblefield

Piping Plover, an ESA-listed bird that has benefited from ABC's efforts to protect breeding habitat in New York. Photo @ Michael Stubblefield

Conservation Outcomes

Of the 21 ESA-listed bird species that ABC has worked on most directly, eight were considered to be increasing in the 2016 ABC report:

  1. Short-tailed Albatross
  2. California Condor
  3. Interior Least Tern
  4. Piping Plover
  5. San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike
  6. Southwest Willow Flycatcher
  7. Kirtland's Warbler
  8. San Clemente Bell's Sparrow

Three were considered stable, while eight were considered to be declining in population. Two recently listed species were not assessed by the report. (See the report.)

Action Highlights

With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), ABC helped translocate 50 Millerbirds from Nihoa to Laysan to start a second “insurance” population, which has since expanded to more than 200 birds.

With Pacific Rim Conservation and FWS, ABC helped translocate 50 Hawaiian Petrels (shown) and 45 Newell's Shearwaters to a protected site inside a predator-proof fence on Kauai.

Adult Hawaiian Petrel. Andre Raine, Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

Hawaiian Petrel being translocated to a predator-proof location on Kauai. Photo by Andre Raine, Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

On behalf of ABC and several partners, Earthjustice sued the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative leading to mitigation for the killing of Newell's Shearwaters at its power lines. Through litigation, ABC also encouraged resorts and businesses on Kauai to shield or eliminate lights that disorient shearwaters. Mitigation funding for light impacts that could not be eliminated have gone toward colony protection.

With Pacific Rim Conservation, ABC successfully petitioned to add the 'Akikiki and the 'Akeke'e to the list of birds protected by the Endangered Species Act. Multi-partner petitions that ABC was party to also succeeded in gaining ESA protection for the Red Knot. ABC also pressed for the listing of the Streaked Horned Lark.

ABC helped generate $3 million in federal support for Hawaiian birds through “State of the Birds” funding; ABC is helping multiple partners to restore habitat and is removing/controlling invasive species to protect Hawaiian forest birds on Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island.

Honeycreepers, such as the 'Akikiki, are among the most vulnerable to mosquitoes. Photo by Jack Jeffrey

The 'Akikiki was added to the ESA list in part due to efforts by ABC and Pacific Rim Conservation. Photo by Jack Jeffrey

ABC successfully advocated for horseshoe crab harvest restrictions in Del., Md., NJ, and Va., and for the creation of a crab sanctuary at the mouth of Delaware Bay to protect a main food source for Red Knots: horseshoe crab eggs.

ABC filed and later settled a law suit to ensure the removal of a feral cat colony threatening Piping Plovers at Jones Beach State Park, New York.

ABC promulgated the best science to support improved conservation management decisions for both the Northern Spotted Owl and Interior Least Tern.

ABC pressed for successful recovery actions to save the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike, which has since benefited from a captive-breeding effort that includes San Diego Zoo, FWS, the U.S. Navy, the Institute for Wildlife Studies, and the Soil Ecology and Restoration Group.