Kirtland’s Warbler

The Kirtland’s Warbler is proof of success from the Endangered Species Act. This bird was down to 167 breeding pairs in the 1970’s when it was one of the first species to be placed on the Endangered Species List for the US. Now it is up to over 2,000 breeding pairs and up for removal from the Endangered Species List.


About them: These are larger warblers that have a gray cap and back with black streaks then, a bright yellow breast. They have white eye crescents and the males have dark in front of their eye. They have a ting territory for breeding and wintering; Northern Michigan for breeding and the Bahamas in winter. Even their migration track is almost a direct line from place to place making them only over Ohio, Georgia, and Florida with any regular notice.

Their choice for breeding habitat is very specifically jack pine forests, but only if they are six years growth from a fire. Once the trees are over 16 feet tall the warbler will not continue breeding there. This need for such specific habitat is one of the largest reasons this warbler got into peril.

The other reason is Brown-headed Cowbird nest parasitism. Brown-headed Cowbirds lived in the great plains where the Bison grazed. Because of this they constantly moved with the heard and learned to leave their eggs in the nests of other birds. Within this territory and amongst birds that evolved with them, both species were ok. Since humans have altered the land and caused large herds of grazing cattle, Brown-headed Cowbirds have been able to spread into territories of birds that did not evolve with them and they are able to harm the population of those species. The Kirtland’s Warbler is one of those species that has struggled.

What we should consider: Our legislation of the ESA does work. It saved this species from extinction. It contributed to the funding, research, and needed time to give these warbler’s back what they needed to survive. If we could succeed here, we can succeed for other species. 

What is being done: Habitat management is constantly in the works. Forests of Jack Pines are being set up in human controlled ways to provide the Kirtland’s Warbler with the needed habitat to breed. Then, Brown-headed Cowbirds are captured and kept away from these warblers.

How to help: As this species comes off the Endangered Species List support for interventions will be less, namely funding to control Brown-headed Cowbirds. There are enough Kirtland’s Warblers to experience more of the cowbirds, but if after a year or two decline is seen, the controls will need to go back on. Without being on the ESL it will be more complicated to get funding needed to implement this, and this is where independent contributors will be sought out. Be on the look out to see if they need funding.

Continue bringing awareness. Call into state senators when legislation is being passed that could affect the continued support of policy that protects wildlife and waterways. Support locally.

Support can be:

  • donating to science groups
  • helping to ensure funding to the organizations that creating breeding programs
  • being a citizen scientist through
    • land restoration project
    • trash clean ups
    • species counts
    • bio blitzes
  • getting people you know excited about how incredible our planet’s biodiversity is.

Joining your local Audubon Society is a great first step into finding activities and ways to become a citizen scientist and environmental advocate.

Further Reading, my sources:

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