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10 of the Rarest Birds in the United States

Even though there are more than 10,000 bird species across the world, whenever one goes extinct, it’s a tragic event. That’s why everyone must recognize and acknowledge birds that are close to disappearing in order to help them recover.

This subject came up after a new study led by the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center in Washington D.C. discovered that the number of Island Scrub-Jay’s was much lower than previously thought. The population of the rare bird, found only on California’s Santa Cruz Island, is at about 2,500 rather than the previously estimated 10,000.

Unfortunately, this reminds us that there are still dozens of birds just in the United States that are highly endangered. Here’s a look at these fleeting birds.

California Condor


From Wikipedia Commons

The largest bird in North America is also one of the rarest. At their lowest point, a mere 22 condors were found in the wild in 1987 until they were all captured for a breeding program. As of May 2012, according to The Oregonian, there are about 405 known condors, with only 226 living in the wild. If you want to know more about the California Condor, read my post about the bird from last year.

Whooping Crane


Photo by John Noll

The number of the Whooping Cranes was said to have topped 10,000 back before settlers came upon the continent, and numbers dipped dangerously low to about 15 in 1938. These amazing birds, which stand 5 feet tall and let out a loud whopping call, have slowly climbed back. The Red List reports about 382 wild Whooping Cranes, with only one self-sustaining group breeding in Canada and wintering in Texas.

San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

The Loggerhead Shrike is not itself endangered, but the island subspecies found on San Clemente Island in Southern California is. At one point, as recent as 1998, there were only 14 individual birds on San Clemente Island. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 206 wild shrikes were on the island in 2006.

Mississippi Sandhill Crane


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

A subspecies of the Sandhill Crane, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane is critically endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates 110 birds, but the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge protects important wet pine savanna habitat.

Island Scrub Jay


Photo by Devon Pike

As stated in the intro, this was originally thought to be just a vulnerable bird with about 10,000 left, but further research found that the numbers are far lower than expected. The good news is that its numbers aren’t as low as the other birds on this list, as there are about 2,500 remaining.

Attwater’s Prairie Chicken


U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

These grandiose birds are a subspecies of the Great Prairie Chicken and are found in Texas and Louisiana. Thanks to urbanization and the loss of habitat, their numbers dipped from one million to a few hundred. Although I have seen a few numbers about today’s population, there were only about 50 living in the wild as recent as 1998. Currently, there are several captive breeding programs throughout Texas to bolster the population.

California Clapper Rail


Photo by Jerry Ting

The California Clapper Rail is a subspecies of the Clapper Rail that’s found primarily in California. This wading bird relies heavily on marshes, which were destroyed over the years. Although its numbers dipped dangerously low, there are now about 1,800 left.

Light-footed Clapper Rail


iStock photo

A close relative of the California Clapper Rail, the Light-footed Clapper Rail has suffered the same fate. Loss of habitat and intrusion by humans has caused the numbers to decline. Only a couple of hundred are still in the wild.

Kirtland’s Warbler


Photo by William H. Majoros

The Kirtland’s Warbler was on the brink of extinction about 50 years ago when its habitat in Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada began disappearing. There were only about 200 Kirtland’s Warblers in the 1980s, but they’ve made a significant recovery as their habitat has grown. The government’s census of the bird reported 2,090 singing males as of 2012.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker


Photo by Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service

And last, but not least, is the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker. While many people are hopeful that this bird still exists, each passing year without a sighting is evidence otherwise. The last reported sightings of the fabled bird was between 2004 and 2006 in Arkansas and Florida. Those sightings were widely debated and further searches came up empty. As of right now, this is either the rarest bird in the United States or another extinct bird that reminds us of the destruction humans can cause on nature. I’m hoping the former.

Other rare birds include the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Piping Plover, Florida Scrub Jay, Ashy Storm Petrel, Northern Spotted Owl and Inyo California Towhee.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. I see one in my property in Sebring Florida early in the morning going from one oak tree to the other picking on the tronc of the oak tree. He is a beautiful bird.

  2. What SandHill Cranes do we have in Minnesota? I think we have 5600 in my county ?? Are they not the same ??!! They are so graceful … and they make the most amazing sound !!! 😉

  3. Hi Gisele. What bird do you see on your property?

  4. The Mississippi Sandhill Crane is a subspecies. The Sandhill Crane itself is fairly abundant in the United States, but there are a few subspecies of the crane that are endangered.

  5. Gisele, did you mean you see an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker every morning? If you do, you should contact Audubon or Cornell. Take photos!!

  6. Although I hope you are correct about it being an ivory billed, it’s probably a Pileated Woodpecker. They look similar and are becoming rare as well. I live in Indiana and just love their calls. It reminds me of a tropical bird.

  7. I’m not a bird watcher but in 1988 I got to witness a migration of birds that few people get to witness. I was living in St. David, Arizona when early one morning I noticed this flock off very odd looking birds resting in a nearby pasture. My neighbor clued me in as to what I was marveling about and I was looking at the beautiful, majestic looking Egyptian Ibis whose migratory journey always landed them in our little out of the way town of St. David, Az. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many miles these birds must have flown but felt very blessed to have seen them that day. Can anybody tell me why these beautiful birds would fly halfway around the world just to stop and rest for a few hours and then vanish without a trace of ever being there? It was truly a sight to behold that day, a true marvel of nature. Robert F. Gable

  8. Sorry to break the news to you but that wasn’t an Ivory-bill.

  9. OK here’s one for all the nay sayers .When I was kid back in the 70’s I Loved going out and just looking at birds kinda got into bird watching way back then, well anyway I was out at my grandma’s place and there was a bunch of giant old trees near here place well there was road that went through them .One day I was walking this road and low and behold in the middle of the road was a dead woodpecker this woodpecker was the size of a crow. This is the kicker it had black head and we all know what woodpecker in south Carolina has a black head don’t we .should I say more or am i going to here it was a pileated black headed female? I know what she was but just to poor to have a camera. I know some people will think this a fabricated story ,but believe what you will. I would go so far as to take a lie detector test if asked I’m so convinced of what i was holding on the road!!!!

  10. What you were more likely to have seen would be Wood Storks. They do look similar to your referenced Egyptian Ibis. The Wood stork is mostly a southern bird from South Carolina over into Texas and down into Mexico and rarely over into California during migration. Still a great bird for your area. J Marty Paige

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