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Wildlife & Habitat

Howe's Lake Wildfire
  • Kirtland's Warbler

    Kirtland's Warbler Joel Trick

    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.

  • Indigo Bunting

    Indigo Bunting

    Look for the indigo bunting in jack pine forests that have been cut or burned in the last five years and in brushy or weedy areas. Males are brilliant blue while females are brownish which helps to camouflage them when they are nesting. The birds arrive in Michigan in April or May, then mate and raise their young before migrating to Central America and the Caribbean in September and October. Male indigo buntings learn their songs from neighboring males and the songs change over the years as each bird adds its own twist. Because of this, indigo buntings have a localized “accent.” Like people, birds from one area or generation sound different than those from another.

  • American Badger

    American Badger

    Generally a denizen of grasslands and open fields, the American badger is also at home in woodlands providing there is enough of its favored prey. Its mostly nocturnal habits seldom bring it into contact with people, but signs a badger is in the area such as tracks and holes can be found. Although they normally attack at night when their victims are asleep, badgers are fast diggers and can pursue their quarry (mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, etc.) into holes. The hunter can dig so swiftly its prey may not even have a chance to use its emergency escape route. Badgers move often, seldom using the same burrow more than a couple of nights in a row. The result of these numerous excavations are badger shaped holes throughout its territory. Badger holes are about a foot wide, oval shaped and wider than they are high.

  • Young Jack Pine Forests

    Young Jack Pine Forest

    The Kirtland’s Warbler Wildlife Management Area is managed to promote the key habitat for the Kirtland’s warbler, an endangered species. The warblers need young jack pine forests, stands from 5 to 23 years old, which are at least 80 acres in size with several small grassy openings. Historically, the jack pine forests were maintained by naturally occurring wildfires that swept through the region. Today, they are managed using a variety of tactics including special clear-cutting techniques developed to provide the optimum habitat for the warbler. In the future, managers hope to use prescribed fire where it can be applied safely without risk to life or property to mimic natural forest life cycles. These young jack pine forests are not only critical habitat for the Kirtland’s warbler but home to other birds such as the Nashville warbler, eastern towhee, brown thrasher and alder flycatcher as well.

  • Very Young Jack Pine Forests

    Very Young Jack Pine

    Since the 1960s, when the Kirtland’s warbler was placed on the endangered species list, efforts have been made to increase their numbers. Over the years, a lot of effort was put into creating the perfect jack pine forest habitat for the warbler. To create these 5 to 23 year old forests, certain areas were clear-cut. The resulting areas are very young jack pine forests – less than five years old. These young stands are dominated by several tree species including jack pine, trembling aspen, and black cherry. In 2006, scientists started to survey all age classes of jack pine forests and found some interesting results. Indigo buntings, eastern bluebirds, field sparrows, Lincoln’s sparrows, and black-billed cuckoo were all found to be using these very young jack pine forests. The older forests that were surveyed seemed to be lacking these species. This led scientists to believe that this age class of trees was important for these birds.

  • Old Jack Pine Forests

    Mature Jack Pine Forest - Credit: Chris Mensing

    Old jack pine forests, those 23 years old or older, have also been documented to host a number of bird species that cannot be found in younger jack pine forests. Black-backed woodpeckers, spruce grouse, olive-sided flycatchers, eastern wood-pewees, hermit thrushes, ovenbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-breasted nuthatches, red-eyed vireos, black-capped chickadees, chipping sparrows, and mourning doves all seem to use this age class of trees. With this new information, managers can take a more holistic approach to management. Instead of focusing on just one species future management decisions will take into consideration the importance of all age classes of the jack pine forest. 

Page Photo Credits — Howe's Lake Wildfire 2011 - Dan Elbert/USFWS, Kirtland's Warbler - Joel Trick/USFWS, Indigo Bunting - USFWS, American Badger - USFWS, Young Jack Pine Forest - USFWS, Very Young Jack Pine - Greg Corace/USFWS, Mature Jack Pine Forest - Chris Mensing/USFWS
Last Updated: Jan 22, 2013
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