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Kirtland's Warbler News


Updated: Dec 7, 2021

The Kirtland’s Warbler, long a symbol of conservation in Michigan, will be featured on a new Michigan license plate that will help raise money for wildlife habitat in the state.

Beginning in January, Michigan drivers will be able to purchase the license plate through the Michigan Secretary of State for $35, with $25 of that fee designated to the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund.

The Michigan DNR chose to celebrate the Kirtland’s Warbler species because it was removed from the federal endangered species list in October 2019. Through wise stewardship on the part of the Michigan DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, plans and partnerships with a network of nonprofit organizations and private citizens created a conservation coalition that saved this bird from extinction. There are now more than 4,000 individuals, and the population is considered healthy.

This warbler nests in young jack pine forests of northern Michigan. Ninety-five percent of the Kirtland’s Warbler population nests in five counties in the northern Lower Peninsula. Small populations can also be found in the U.P., Wisconsin, and Ontario. The warbler spends its winters primarily in The Bahamas.

The Kirtland’s Warbler is the perfect symbol for the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund because even though the bird is no longer considered endangered, conservation efforts must continue for as far as we can see into the future. Kirtland’s Warblers nest on the ground under the overlapping branches of young jack pine trees. Historically, the warbler’s breeding habitat was created by wildfire sweeping across the landscape, burning mature trees, and opening new areas for young trees to grow. But with more humans living near jack pine habitat starting in the early 20th century, fires became viewed as a threat and were extinguished. With young jack pine habitat becoming increasingly rare, the warbler went into a long, slow population decline until the 1980s, when humans began to harvest large areas of mature forests and replant them with young trees.

The Kirtland’s Warbler is just one of the species that benefits from management of the jack pine ecosystem. Game species such as the white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and snowshoe hare use the young jack pine habitat extensively. Jack pine management also helps to support the threatened Hill’s thistle (a plant) and the secretive locust (an insect).

“The accomplishment of this species qualifying for removal from the endangered species list is a testament to the efficacy and power of ecology-driven conservation,” said Michigan Audubon Executive Director Heather Good.

Michigan Audubon has contributed to Kirtland’s Warbler conservation, collaboration, tours, and management in many ways throughout history, which makes this event of relevance to a great many volunteers, members, donors, tour guides, and former board members who helped make this happen.

Since its inception, the wildlife habitat license plate has raised over $3.9 million for Michigan’s Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund. This is the only designated fund for nongame species in our state, which is why your contribution matters, Good shared. “It not only puts dollars into an area of natural resources management that is greatly unsupported and in need of resources, but it also conveys a message on the road and to our legislators about non-consumptive wildlife appreciation,” she added.

The Common Loon, another beloved avian species to many, was the first species featured on the Michigan’s nongame license plate when it became available in 2006. In December 2017, the nongame plate featured an elk, purportedly to mark the 2018 celebration of 100 years of elk presence in our state. “I think the birding community will applaud seeing this change back to an avian species on the nongame plate, especially one that has such strong Michigan relevance,” said Good.

Michigan Audubon and the Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance encourage every Michigan driver to purchase the plate and support our state’s nongame wildlife work.

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Here's the just issued press release with the results of the census:

Milwaukee, WI— State and federal agencies and droves of volunteers have partnered to count

Michigan’s Kirtland’s warbler population. The agencies recently announced that surveys

conducted in June show the small songbirds have continued to flourish since their October 2019 removal from the federal list of endangered species.

“The power of partnership continues to yield excellent results for the Kirtland’s warbler after

coming off the endangered species list,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director

Charlie Wooley. “Recovery of this beloved species required a strong, creative set of partners, and that spirit continues into the future with agencies, organizations and private entities working together locally, nationally and internationally. I’m confident this strong partnership will secure the long-term future of this bird.”

With the June survey results now tallied, the Kirtland’s warbler global population is estimated at 2245 pairs, which is more than double the 1,000-pair recovery goal for the species – which has been exceeded over each of the past 20 years. Researchers survey nesting areas, listening for singing males advertising and defending nesting territories. Each male found is presumed to have a mate, so the number of males also indicates the number of pairs.

Kirtland’s warblers build nests on the ground, only in young, dense stands of jack pine in

Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. This habitat was historically created by large wildfires. Today, wildfires are suppressed, and the nesting habitat is created by harvesting mature jack pine and planting jack pine seedling in the logged areas.

This year’s Kirtland’s warbler counts took place in jack pine nesting habitat situated across lands managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nearly all the world’s Kirtland’s warbler population nest in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. In 2017 and 2019, partial surveys were completed. This year’s thorough census was the first full count of Kirtland’s warbler since 2015, when 2,365 singing males were counted. This is believed to represent ALL the adult males of the entire global population of this highly localized (endemic) bird species!

“Recovering a species as imperiled as the Kirtland’s warbler wasn’t easy,” said Brian Bogaczyk, Regional Threatened and Endangered Species Biologist for the USDA Forest Service Eastern Region. “The US Forest Service is honored to play a part in the Kirtland’s warbler comeback, an incredible success story that’s a great example of what we can achieve with strong partnerships. We must continue to invest in creating habitat for this disturbance-dependent species to thrive, and the Forest Service is committed to doing our part in the future.”

More specifically, 1,114 singing males were located on the Huron National Forest – representing a 9% increase over the number counted in 2019 – while 994 singing males were found on lands managed by the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the northern Lower Peninsula.

In addition, two singing males were found in Lake County on the Manistee National Forest in

jack pine not established for Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. This was the first time the

birds have been found on the Manistee National Forest since 1977.

“The number of singing males was above what we expected,” said Phil Huber, Wildlife Program Manager for the Huron-Manistee National Forests in Cadillac, MI. “It’s really gratifying to see this species doing so well, especially compared to the population lows we observed in the 1970s and early 1980s when 200 singing males was the average. The recovery of this species has been a decades long effort by many dedicated individuals.”

In the Upper Peninsula, a record number of Kirtland’s warblers were recorded by census

participants. Previous counts recorded 37 singing males in 2015, 44 in 2017 and 40 in 2019. This year, 67 singing males were found across the Upper Peninsula, including 42 on the Hiawatha National Forest and 25 on state forest lands, with 22 of those situated within recovering jack pine forests burned in the 21,069-acre Duck Lake Fire of 2012.

“Expansion of Kirtland’s warblers into new areas, and in greater numbers, is good news for the

future of the species in Michigan,” said DNR Director Dan Eichinger. “From the Kirtland’s

Warbler Alliance and American Bird Conservancy to our state and federal partners in the Great Lakes region, the effort and teamwork committed to the recovery of this species continues to pay great dividends.”

In addition to the birds found in Michigan, Wisconsin surveyors detected 39 singing males,

largely in central Wisconsin’s Adams County. This is an all-time high for Wisconsin, which has

been seeing ever-increasing numbers since first being detected in 2008. Also, surveyors in

Ontario detected 22 singing males, also representing an all-time high there since surveys began. Kirtland’s warbler surveys have been conducted in Michigan since 1951. The species was among the first animals included when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. Populations sunk to a low of 167 pairs in 1974 and 1987 before mounting a gradual recovery.

Aiding greatly in that return were cooperative efforts between state and federal agencies, along with conservation groups, to conserve and expand suitable jack pine habitat and control brown-headed cowbirds. Cowbirds are nest parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of Kirtland’s warblers and other bird species. The larger cowbird chicks out-compete warbler chicks for food, which causes them to die, while the warbler parents unknowingly raise the cowbird chicks.

By 2001, the number of Kirtland’s warbler pairs in Michigan had surpassed 1,000, while the

places the birds were located expanded to include the U.P., Ontario and Wisconsin. The birds

migrate to and overwinter in The Bahamas.

The Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 and is now the guiding management strategy for the species. Additionally, funding and other commitments to habitat management and cowbird control are in place to ensure continued conservation actions in the absence of Endangered Species Act protections. In addition, the Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation Team has replaced the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team established under the Endangered Species Act. Today, the Conservation Team preserves institutional knowledge, shares information and facilitates communication and collaboration among agencies and partners to maintain and improve Kirtland’s warbler conservation.

The current make-up of the team includes representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife

Service, US Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, USDA-Wildlife Services, Canadian Wildlife Service, Huron Pines, Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance, American Bird Conservancy and California University of

Pennsylvania. The Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation Team is an integral part of post-delisting monitoring efforts and provides an important forum for sharing information, coordinating management efforts and ensuring that effective adaptive management occurs. The Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping ensure needs of the species are addressed.

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Our knowledge of how to use fire as an ecological tool has improved dramatically over the past decade or so.The link below will take you to a page where the Michigan DNR explains why fire is so important to certain ecosystems - like that of the jack pine outwash plains of Northern Michigan. Make sure you click on the "story map" link and scroll all the way through for a thorough explanation of how prescribed fires are conducted and their benefits. The DNR does a first-class job of explaining why fire is so important and how prescribed burns are conducted.,4570,7-350-79136_79237_80917-55955--,00.html

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