California Department of Fish and Wildlife

California Bird Species of Special Concern

California Bird Species of Special Concern

Cover art by Keith Hansen

"California Bird Species of Special Concern is an important part of CDFW's comprehensive conservation agenda. It serves to focus attention and resources on those bird species in need of special assistance and will further our goals in implementation of the California Wildlife Action Plan." - Kevin Hunting, Chief Deputy Director, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

California Bird Species of Special Concern: A Ranked Assessment of Species, Subspecies, and Distinct Populations of Birds of Immediate Conservation Concern in California, a collaborative project of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, PRBO Conservation Science, and Western Field Ornithologists, published in 2008, is now available only online. Within the 450-page book, the authors provide a detailed analysis of the status of California's at-risk birds using the latest data to describe current populations, ranges, and threats. Seabirds, raptors, shorebirds, waterfowl, and perching birds all are represented on the Bird Species of Special Concern list, suggesting that conservation concern spans the length and breadth of the state, from its offshore waters to the higher mountains. Habitats with high numbers of special concern bird species include wetlands, scrublands, grasslands, and riparian forests - all experiencing the highest rates of habitat loss in California. Paralleling continental and worldwide trends, habitat loss and degradation is the greatest threat to California's at-risk birds. Geographic areas with the highest numbers of special concern taxa are southern and central coastal California, where pressures from high and expanding human populations are expected to intensify in coming decades.

NEW! Collaborative website on California Birds Species of Special Concern is now available. This website includes links to Bird Species of Special Concern data summaries, maps, resources for bird conservation, climate models, and provides a way for the public to suggest changes to the list.

Definition of a California Bird Species of Special Concern

California Bird Species of Special Concern are defined as those species, subspecies, or distinct populations of native birds that currently satisfy one or more of the following (not necessarily mutually exclusive) criteria:

  • are extirpated from the state totally or in their primary seasonal or breeding role and were never listed as state threatened or endangered.
  • are listed as federally, but not state, threatened or endangered.
  • meet the state definition of threatened or endangered but have not formally been listed.
  • are experiencing, or formerly experienced, serious (noncyclical) population declines or range retractions (not reversed) that, if continued or resumed, could qualify them for state threatened or endangered status.
  • have naturally small populations exhibiting high susceptibility to risk from any factor(s) that if realized could lead to declines that would qualify them for state threatened or endangered status.

California Bird Species of Special Concern list

Seventy-four taxa are included on the current Bird Species of Special Concern list. The list is comprised of three priority categories derived through a scoring and ranking process and two unranked categories derived by definition (first two bullets above).

Current California Bird Species of Special Concern list (2008)


The Bird Species of Special Concern book includes an Introduction, Methods (describing the identification and ranking of "at-risk" birds), Results, and Discussion. California's "Bird Responsibility List," a tool for longer-term conservation planning, includes 125 taxa that qualify because all or a very high proportion of their global populations occur in the state. A taxon's co-occurrence on the special concern and responsibility lists indicates a particularly high level of conservation concern in California. An annotated list of "Taxa to Watch" includes bird taxa that are not on the current special concern list but were on previous ones.

Species Accounts

Species accounts were prepared for the 63 ranked taxa to document general range and abundance, seasonal status in California, historical range and abundance in California, ecological requirements, and threats; additionally, management, research and monitoring recommendations are presented. Maps showing current and historic range accompany each account.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck Black Tern Le Conte's Thrasher (San Joaquin population)
Tule Greater White-fronted Goose Black Skimmer Lucy's Warbler
Brant Cassin's Auklet Yellow Warbler
Redhead Tufted Puffin Sonora Yellow Warbler
Harlequin Duck Burrowing Owl San Francisco Common Yellowthroat
Greater Sage-Grouse California Spotted Owl Yellow-breasted Chat
Mount Pinos Sooty Grouse Long-eared Owl Summer Tanager
Catalina California Quail Short-eared Owl San Clemente Spotted Towhee
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel Black Swift Santa Cruz Is. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Ashy Storm-Petrel Vaux's Swift Oregon Vesper Sparrow
Black Storm-Petrel Olive-sided Flycatcher Bryant's Savannah Sparrow
American White Pelican Vermilion Flycatcher Large-billed Savannah Sparrow
Least Bittern Loggerhead Shrike (mainland populations) Grasshopper Sparrow
Wood Stork Island Loggerhead Shrike Song Sparrow ("Modesto" population)
Northern Harrier Gray Vireo Suisun Song Sparrow
Northern Goshawk Catalina Hutton's Vireo Samuels Song Sparrow
Yellow Rail Purple Martin Alameda Song Sparrow
Lesser Sandhill Crane San Diego Cactus Wren Channel Island Song Sparrow
Snowy Plover (interior population) Clark's Marsh Wren Kern Red-winged Blackbird
Mountain Plover Bendire's Thrasher Tricolored Blackbird
Gull-billed Tern Crissal Thrasher Yellow-headed Blackbird

The comprehensive database showing criteria scores for all nominee species will be available to the public on this website. These data serve as a baseline upon which future revisions of the Bird Species of Special Concern list will be made.

Previous California Bird Species of Special Concern Lists

The CDFW's prior Bird Species of Special concern lists are found here:

We invite comments and suggestions. Please send them to:

Neil Clipperton
Nongame Wildlife Program - Wildlife Branch
1812 9th Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 445-9753