The United States conserves imperiled species with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). No studies have evaluated the ESA's coverage of species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which is an accepted standard for imperiled species classification. We assessed the ESA's coverage of IUCN-listed birds, mammals, amphibians, gastropods, crustaceans, and insects, and studied the listing histories of three bird species and Pacific salmonids in more detail. We found that 40.3% of IUCN-listed U.S. birds are not listed by the ESA, and most other groups are underrecognized by >80%. Species with higher IUCN threat levels are more frequently recognized by the ESA. Our avian case studies highlight differences in the objectives, constraints, and listing protocols of the two institutions, and the salmonids example shows an alternative situation where agencies were effective in evaluating and listing multiple (related) species. Vague definitions of endangered and threatened, an inadequate ESA budget, and the existence of the warranted but precluded category likely contribute to the classification gap we observed.