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Kirtland's Warbler recovery success story for Endangered Species Act

A Kirtland's Warbler
Joel Trick
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

State and federal wildlife agencies say the Kirtland's Warbler can safely be removed from the endangered species list. 

The yellow breasted songbird breeds only in stands of young jack pines, trees found mainly in northern Michigan, but also in the U.P., Wisconsin, and Ontario.

The bird numbered only about 330 individuals at its lowest point in 1987, but it has since recovered and now numbers about 4,600.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes how the warbler got into trouble:

The Kirtland’s warbler, an endangered species, is a specialist. Specialists have very defined needs; therefore their environment has to be just right in order for them to survive. This finicky little bird spends its summers living in a very specific type of fire-dependent forest in the Midwest, mainly Michigan, and winters in the Bahamas. It needs young jack pine forests (5 to 23 years old) with a number of small grassy openings. The warblers tend to nest in groups. The nests are placed on the ground among grasses or other plants under the limbs of young jack pines. When the trees mature the lower branches die and the warblers move on. Wildfire, a natural ecological process vital to producing warbler’s preferred habitat, has been suppressed for more than 100 years. Today, these natural processes are mimicked with well-designed logging practices and the warbler’s numbers are recovering quickly

There will be a 90-day public comment period prior to the delisting.  State and federal wildlife agencies say a coalition of state, federal, and private groups will continue to protect the bird even after it is removed from the list.

Another threat to the Kirtland's Warbler is cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the warbler's nests.  The state of Michigan has set up a trust fund with a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to control these birds.  Interest from the trust will be used to maintain the cowbird management program, in which the birds are captured and humanely euthanized.  Cowbirds have a very wide territory where they can breed and are not endangered.  

Listen to the Kirtland's Warbler:

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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