Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo Remains Federally Protected after Delisting Threat Falls Flat

Another example of the Audubon network delivering a victory for birds.

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Although we wish we were celebrating a major increase in the population or thousands of restored acres of habitat, Audubon is applauding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) recent decision to retain federal protections for the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo under the Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and other threats to this bird in the West continue with less than 2,000 breeding pairs of the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo throughout its range.

A group representing the mining and ranching industries and other business interests petitioned the USFWS to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, part of a coordinated attempt to chip away at the 1973 law species by species.

In response to these efforts, Audubon opposed the effort to remove the western distinct population segment (DPS) of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo from the protections it currently has under the Endangered Species Act and nearly 25,000 of our members echoed that concern—we submitted their comments to the USFWS. In our 2019 comment letter, we shared information on population levels and projected trends, priority habitats, and continued threats, including the potential effects of climate change on the species and its habitat.  

Within the last 50 years, primarily because of habitat loss along streams and rivers, the population size and distribution of Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo have declined substantially. Found in only a fraction of its former range in the American West, the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo is listed as endangered in California, critically imperiled in Nevada, sensitive in Utah, and of concern or of greatest conservation need in seven additional western states. A restricted range, combined with a low population makes this species highly vulnerable to environmental stressors, such as habitat loss, invasive species, and drought.

We are happy to report that the USFWS announced their finding on the petition to remove the DPS of the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The USFWS notice states, “After a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that it is not warranted at this time to delist the DPS of the western yellow-billed cuckoo.”

At this time, the USFWS is also considering changes in designated critical habitat for the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which inadequately addresses portions of its range as Audubon pointed out in our letter earlier this year. Particularly when the majority of the species' range has not been surveyed on a regular basis, more information is needed for improved conservation of this species. Both Audubon and the USFWS welcome any new information relevant to the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo or its habitat. Audubon encourages a federally funded, multi-state, coordinated strategy to study and improve conditions for this bird. There is an urgent need for leadership from the USFWS to help address declining and vulnerable species by protecting, creating, restoring, and reconnecting habitat that will contribute to species recovery, adaptation, and resiliency in the face of climate change.  

Audubon is pleased that this bird will continue to enjoy federal protections as it struggles for survival against all the threats it faces. Thanks to everyone who contributed science information and spoke up for this bird!