2020 was a year of ups and downs for the Endangered Species Act

From the winter 2021 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

By the end of 2020, most people would give the year a big thumbs down. It was a mixed bag for birds on the endangered species list. Some species received more protection in recognition of their poor conservation status; others were shortlisted for successful conservation work:

Red Cockatoo Woodpecker

In September, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to add this species to the ESA list from “endangered” to “threatened”. According to the USFWS, recent woodpecker population increases “will continue to improve as long as conservation management continues”.

Eastern Black Rail

The population of the Eastern Black Rail has declined by 90%, and the threat to wetland habitats means the future does not look bright for the small, isolated railroad populations of the East Coast, Gulf Coast and Great Plains. The USFWS officially protected the railways as “threatened” in October as part of the ESA.

Hawaiian Crow (Alala)

In October, scientists captured the last five alala that remained in the wild and placed them under the sanctuary of the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center at San Diego Zoo Global. Nearly 30 captive-bred Hawaiian crows were released into the wild on the Big Island, but the crows were decimated by the bird’s main predator, the Hawaiian hawk (Io).

California Condor

The local population in California’s Big Sur region received a boost in November with the release of seven condors that were successfully reared at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. But tragically, a few months earlier, wildfire had breached the Big Sur Condor Sanctuary, shattering structures, killing two condor chicks, and causing the disappearance and alleged death of nine free-flying adults.

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