owl and trainer

Conservation & Research

Endangered and Threatened Species & Populations

  • Diurnal bird of prey species have become endangered or threatened due to poaching, pollution, and habitat destruction.
  • As of August 1994, 18 species of diurnal birds of prey are considered endangered or threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). An endangered species is any species of animal or plant that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is a species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Following are a few of the federally listed species:
    • Southern bald eagle populations declined dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s due to the heavy use of organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT. In 1974, only 700 breeding pairs existed in the contiguous 48 states (Johnsgard, 1990). The bald eagle began a slow recovery following the ban of DDT in 1972, dieldrin in 1974, and endrin in 1984. At the same time, federal laws were enacted to prevent poaching and disturbance of nest sites. Today, there are about 4,500 pairs of breeding bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The USFWS has proposed a change in their status from endangered to threatened in all but three of the 48 states.
    • Peregrine falcons met a fate similar to the bald eagle's, but their population decline due to pesticides was even more dramatic. By 1975, there were no peregrines breeding in the eastern U.S. and only 39 known breeding pairs in the western U.S. Pesticide bans, regulations, and intensive captive breeding and release programs have resulted in the peregrine's comeback. In 1994, approximately 1,000 breeding pairs were recorded in the lower 48 states (The Peregrine Fund, 1994). The American peregrine falcon (Falco p. anatum) and Eurasian peregrine falcon (Falco p. peregrinus) are listed as endangered. The tundra-breeding subspecies is listed as threatened.
    • California condors used to number in the thousands. By 1939 their numbers were estimated to be under 100, and by 1982 only 21 to 24 birds remained in the wild. Reasons for their decline include habitat loss, poaching, a low reproductive rate, electrocution by high-voltage wires, and poisoning. In 1981, the California Department of Fish and Game permitted the San Diego Zoological Society and the Los Angeles Zoo to breed condors. Continued threats to condors in the wild resulted in the capture of the entire population by 1987. Today, due to the success of the captive breeding program, there are over 100 living condors. In 1995, six condors were released in a remote area of central California, and are currently the only California condors residing in the wild (The Peregrine Fund, 1994).
  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)/World Conservation Union is a global organization that links together government agencies, nongovernment agencies, and independent states to encourage a worldwide approach to conservation. This organization currently lists over 25 endangered, vulnerable, or rare diurnal birds of prey from around the world, including the rare Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus) and the Seychelles kestrel.

Legal Protection

  • The U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) prohibits the using, taking, possessing, selling, or advertising for sale or trade those species listed as endangered or threatened by the USFWS, in the U.S. or abroad, unless authorized by permit.
  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates international trade of certain animals and plants. Species for which CITES controls trade are included in one of three appendices. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction and may only be permitted for trade under exceptional circumstances. Fourteen diurnal bird of prey species are included in Appendix I, including the bald eagle and California condor. Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is strictly controlled. Appendix II includes all remaining bird of prey species except for five New World vultures which are not listed.
  • The U.S. Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 prohibits the taking, possessing, importing/exporting, selling, and transporting of bald eagles and golden eagles. Permits for these activities are considered only for scientific, educational, and religious (involving Native American tribes) purposes, and for protection of wildlife or agriculture.
  • The U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act was signed with Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) in 1916, Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and the Soviet Union in 1976. Unless authorized by permit, the Act prohibits the taking, possessing, importing/exporting, selling, and transporting of any listed migratory bird, its parts, nest, or eggs. All North American diurnal birds of prey, except bald and golden eagles, are listed as migratory birds under this Act.

Zoological Parks

  •  Having diurnal birds of prey at zoological parks provides the opportunity for the public to learn about these animals and how human activities impact their environment. The Busch Gardens and Sea World parks work with the World Bird Sanctuary, a leader in bird rehabilitation, propagation, and education, to produce quality programs that educate the public about diurnal birds of prey.
  • Many zoological parks contribute their expertise and facilities for the breeding of endangered species. For instance, the San Diego Wild Animal Park has been breeding California condors since the 1980s.
  • Others provide safe shelter for injured diurnal birds of prey. Busch Gardens Williamsburg houses injured bald eagles. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay shelters bald and golden eagles, and is licensed to aid other Florida birds of prey when needed