Back from the Brink: A Photo Gallery of Birds Helped by the Endangered Species Act

This Friday, May 18, 2012, the nation celebrates Endangered Species Day. To mark the event, we’re sharing photos of five North American bird species that represent endangered species success stories. To ensure that these birds continue to recover–and to provide more success stories to share in the future–continued federal funding for wildlife conservation must be a top priority.

All of these photos were donated by past participants in the National Wildlife® Photo Contest. To enter your best shots in this year’s competition, visit the contest site.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle by Robert Palmer
Devastated by widespread use of DDT, the number of nesting pairs of bald eagles outside Alaska declined to just 417 by 1963. When the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, the raptor was listed as endangered throughout the Lower 48, except in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, where it was designated as threatened. Over the following decades, recovery efforts included captive breeding, reintroductions and protection of breeding sites. Along with a ban on DDT, these efforts paid off: By 2007, the Lower 48 housed 10,000 nesting pairs–a 25-fold increase–and the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list. Photo by Robert Palmer.

 Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican by Kelle Herrick
By the late 1950s, U.S. populations of the brown pelican had crashed as a result of illegal hunting and the use of DDT, which led to fatal thinning of eggshells after parents ingested contaminated fish. In 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as endangered throughout its range. A subsequent ban on DDT, along with transplanting thousands of chicks from Florida to Louisiana, led to a remarkable recovery. In 2009, the brown pelican was removed from the endangered species list. Though pelicans were hit hard by the Gulf oil disaster that began a year later, their numbers in most places are stable or increasing and nesting success is high. Photo by Kelle Herrick.

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane by Don Kates
Between 15,000 and 20,000 whooping cranes once ranged widely across North America, from central Canada to Mexico and from Utah to the East Coast. But unregulated hunting and habitat destruction devastated the bird’s populations. By 1941, only 21 whooping cranes remained in the wild. Thanks to reintroductions and other actions under the Endangered Species Act, this elegant bird is beginning to bounce back. Today some 599 cranes live in three separate wild populations. The birds remain at risk—harmed by illegal shooting, habitat loss and degradation, collisions with power lines and other threats—so continued vigilance and conservation funding under the Act remain critical. Photo by Don Kates.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon by Herb Houghton
Another victim of widespread DDT use from the 1940s through the 1960s, the peregrine falcon was nearly wiped out from the continental United States. As top predators, the raptors absorbed large amounts of pesticide from prey such as fish and other birds. DDT killed both adults and offspring, whose shells cracked before hatching. By 1970, no peregrines nested east of the Mississippi River. After DDT was banned in 1972, and the birds were designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the raptors began to recover. Today there are thousands of peregrine nest sites nationwide. Photo by Herb Houghton.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover by Ken Lee
Tiny, well-camouflaged shorebirds, piping plovers are particularly vulnerable to beach goers and their off-road vehicles during the nesting season as well as to coastal development. The birds also are killed by dogs, cats and native predators. In response to steep population declines, the piping plover was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1986 (designated endangered inland and threatened along the Atlantic Coast). Since then, the species has partially recovered. The number of nesting pairs in the Midwest grew from 16 to about 63. On the Atlantic Coast, the number of pairs has increased from 790 to nearly 1,800 today. Photo by Ken Lee.

Help NWF celebrate Endangered Species Day! Learn more about endangered birds and other at-risk plants and animals in your region and share the importance of conserving our nation’s wildlife with your friends and family.

Sources: The Bald Eagle in America” by NWF staff, National Wildlife, December/January 2010, “Oil Spill Hammers Brown Pelicans” by Laura Tangley, National Wildlife, October/November 2010 and Endangered Species Online Bulletin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, April/May/June 2012.