Status codes

To describe the state of an endangered species – its population size, likelihood of extinction, and so on – some authors give pages of details, some offer a straightforward sentence or two, and some provide codes. This post considers status codes assigned to the California condor beginning in the 1960s.

First is an example of a one-sentence statement of the status of the California condor:

Of special concern because of very small population and greatly restricted breeding range.

That sentence is from the 1973 edition of Threatened Wildlife of the United States, published by the U.S. government as Resource Publication 114.

Coded versions of such statements pack substantial information in a small space, make for ready comparisons among species, and facilitate computer analysis. Below, in chronological order, are 8 examples of status codes for the California condor and the definitions of the terms in those codes.

Be aware that some of the codes are place-specific and that some may now be out of date. In some cases I have edited the codes and their definitions for clarity.

These codes are part of the story of the relationship between California condors and humans, and so deserve consideration.


1 = very rare and believed to be decreasing in numbers
(a) = full species
P = legally protected, at least in some parts of its range
*** = giving cause for very grave anxiety [underlining in original]

Vincent, Jack. Red Data Book. International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resouces. 1966.


l = limited geographic area
r = rarely observed
P = permanent resident and confirmed breeder

DeSante, David and Peter Pyle. Distributional Checklist of North American Birds. Artemesia. 1986.

rb (formerly) SE FE

rb (formerly) = former breeders
SE = classified as endangerered by the California government
FE = classified as endangerered by the U.S. government

Small, Arnold. California Birds: Their Status and Distribution. Ibis. 1994.

E,CH S 2 4C

E = endangered
CH = critical habitat has been designated
S = stable population
2 = 26-50% recovery achieved
4 = species rank by degree of threats, recovery potential and taxonomic distinctness
C = conflict between the species’ conservation efforts and economic development

Fish and Wildlife Service. Report to Congress: Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Program. U.S. Department of the Interior. 1995.


2 = principal range includes Sierra Nevada
1 = extirpated in Sierra Nevada
T = native to Sierra Nevada

Graber, David M. “Status of Terrestrial Vertebrates”. In Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Final Report to Congress: Status of the Sierra Nevada. Centers for Water and Wildland Resources. 1996.


ME = Mexico endangered
USE = United States endangered
CE = California endangered
CR = critical

Erickson, R. A., R. Mendoza-Salgado, and E. Amador. “Appendix E: Government and Other Status Designations for Baja California Peninsula Birds of Potential Conservation Concern”. In Birds of the Baja California Peninsula: Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy. American Birding Association. 2001.


[R*] = former resident breeder

[The meaning of the question mark was not explained.]

Howell, S. N. G., and others. “An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Baja California and Baja California Sur”. In Birds of the Baja California Peninsula: Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy. American Birding Association. 2001.


2 = medium threat of habitat loss
1 = high threat of human impacts

Wiens, John A., and Thomas Gardali. “Conservation Reliance among California’s At-Risk Birds”. Condor. 2013.

Related posts include Code names and Vanishing birds.