Trio of agencies pledge to protect Kirtland's warbler

May 21, 2011

A bird once common to Michigan nearly became extinct. Three agencies say they'll work together to make sure work to save the bird continues. The following information comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

"The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources have signed a memorandum of agreement pledging to continue conservation efforts for the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, regardless of the warbler’s status under the Endangered Species Act.  

The MOU is a first step toward eventually removing the Kirtland’s warbler from the list of endangered and threatened species.

As a conservation-reliant species, the Kirtland’s warbler will always be dependent on annual habitat management and control of parasitic cowbirds. The memorandum secures agency commitments for long-term habitat management, population monitoring, and coordination.

Kirtland’s warblers nest exclusively in jack pine forests.  Loss of suitable habitat and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds caused their population to decline sharply.  By 1974, the population had plummeted to 167 singing males.

Efforts by state, federal and private partners to save the species from extinction have paid off:  a 2010 count found 1,773 singing males, including 1,747 from Michigan with an additional 23 males observed in Wisconsin, and three males observed in Ontario, Canada.

While numbers of Kirtland’s warblers have surpassed numeric recovery goals, ongoing management is needed to ensure their population continues to thrive.  About 190,000 acres of public lands are managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically to meet the Kirtland’s warbler nesting habitat requirements.  

Until 1995 Kirtland’s warblers had only been known to nest in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Today, they also nest in the Upper Peninsula, and since 2007, have nested in Wisconsin and Canada. They migrate from their nesting grounds to the southeastern coast of the United States on their way to wintering grounds in the Bahamas.  Avid birdwatchers seek out sightings of the Kirtland’s warbler, and the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival has become an annual celebration of the species."

Information on the MOU and Kirtland’s warbler recovery efforts can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/birds/Kirtland/index.html