Almost a third of continental U.S. birds, 178 species, are in imminent peril and could go extinct if action isn't taken to preserve their habitat and numbers.

That's the finding of a report released Wednesday by the Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy.

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Of those species, 59 are the most in danger, including species seen locally such as the yellow rail, piping plover, short-eared owl and cerulean and golden-winged warblers.

The piping plover was once at home along Lake Superior beaches but, while they are occasionally seen here during brief visits, none has nested successfully in the Northland for many years.

"They should be nesting along the St. Louis [River] estuary up there, but they aren't,'' said Mark Martell, Minnesota Audubon's director of bird conservation.

The problems for the species on the list often include development and other habitat destruction and human interference: collisions with vehicles and communications towers, and polluted waters.

A warming climate and exotic species also have emerged as major threats to some species, the Audubon report notes.

Bird experts say people can help by supporting conservation of grasslands and wetlands in their communities and by working to lessen human contributions to climate change. Support for conservation elements in the government's farm bill also is critical, Audubon officials note.

Little is known about why some of the species are declining, such as the yellow rail, which winters in the Gulf Coast and is sometimes found in summer in wet grasslands near McGregor.

"We just don't know enough about them or where they once were to know why they are declining so fast,'' Martell said.

About 40 percent of the world's golden-winged warbles nest in remote northern Minnesota bogs.

In all, 37 species that call Minnesota home for at least part of the year are included in the list of 178 species in peril.

"We call this a 'Watch List,' but it is really a call to action, because the alternative is to watch these species slip ever closer to oblivion," said Greg Butcher, Audubon bird conservation director and co-author of the new list, in a statement.