Midwest Region Endangered Species Conserving the nature of America

Endangered Species Program


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species program is conserving and restoring threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems.




U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service in the Midwest


The Midwest Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Find a location near you.


The Midwest Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Find a location near you »

Kirtland's warbler perched on a tree branch.

Photo courtesy of Joel Trick

Kirtland’s Warbler Time Line

from Near Extinction to Recovery


1841 – Kirtland’s Warbler first discovered
First Kirtland’s Warbler specimen collected between Abaco and Cuba by Cabot/Catherwood expedition bound for the Yucatan. The specimen would remain undescribed in the Smithsonian collection until 1865.


1851 – Kirtland’s Warbler first discovered in United States
Dr. Jared Kirtland, an Ohio physician and naturalist, provided Dr. Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian, an unknown specimen collected during spring migration by his son-in-law, Charles Pease near Cleveland on May 13, 1851.


1857 – Kirtland’s Warbler described
Dr. Baird dedicated the bird to Dr. Kirtland, because to him “we are indebted for a knowledge of the Natural History of the Mississippi Valley."


1879 - Wintering grounds discovered

The wintering grounds of the Kirtland’s warbler were found January 9, 1879, on Andros Island in the Bahamas.


1903 – First nest discovered
Over a half century after the Kirtland’s warbler was first described, its nesting range was discovered. A specimen collected on June 13, 1903, near the AuSable River in western Oscoda County, Michigan, was taken to Norman A. Wood, curator of birds at the University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology. Wood identified it as a Kirtland's warbler and promptly set out on a trip to Oscoda County, traveling by rail, rowboat, buggy and foot to search for nesting birds.


1932 – First Kirtland’s Warbler banded
Dr. Larry Walkinshaw, a dentist from Battle Creek, becomes the first person to band a Kirtland’s Warbler, which he captured by hand. He would study the bird for the remainder of his life.


1940 to 1950 - Concerns due to low nest productivity
Nest observations during the 1940's and 50's showed that the production of young was so low as to raise doubts that the species could maintain itself.


1951 – First census
On the hundredth anniversary of its discovery, the Kirtland’s warbler became the first songbird in the world to have its entire population censused. Several groups of ornithologists, working in cooperation, visited all the suitable habitat within the known nesting range and counted the singing males. Four hundred thirty-two males were found. The number of females was judged to be about equal to the number of males, and so the total population was put in the neighborhood of 1,000 birds.


Male Kirtland's warbler singing from perch on a leafless tree branch.

To census Kirtland's warbler numbers, surveyors count the number of singing males.

Photo courtesy of Joel Trick


1957 -  First major effort to provide breeding habitat
Michigan Department of Natural Resources establishes three areas, each about four miles square, specifically as warbler management units in Ogemaw, Crawford and Oscoda counties primarily because of the efforts of Harold Mayfield, an amateur ornithologist, and Josselyn Van Tyne, University of Michigan Curator of Birds.  


1961 – Second decennial census

502 singing males detected.


1962 – U.S. Forest Service Kirtland’s Warbler Management Plan approved


1963 – U.S. Forest Service dedicated a 4,010-acre tract to Kirtland’s Warbler management


1966 – Kirtland’s warbler guided tours began


People viewing a Kirtland's warbler during a guided tour.

The Michigan Audubon Society and U.S. Forest Service have been guiding tours to allow people to see this rare bird without disturbing nesting activities.

Photo by Dan Elbert; USFWS


1967 – Kirtland’s warbler listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Preservation Act


1969 – Kirtland’s warbler listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act


1971 – Third census – 60 percent decline
The 1971 census confirmed the dire predictions of the previous decade. The count showed a 60 percent decline to 201 singing males. The population was down from about 1,000 birds to about 400.


1971 -  Kirtland's Warbler Advisory Committee formed
The 60 percent decline in nesting warblers indicated in the 1971 census resulted in a joint meeting of the U.S. Forest Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources. A major result of this meeting was the formation of a Kirtland's Warbler Advisory Committee whose charge was to outline needed habitat research, propose restrictions on human activity in nesting areas, initiate a cowbird control program and locate funding.


1972 – Brown-headed cowbird control began


Cowbird trap

Cowbirds are trapped and removed from nesting areas. Brown-headed cowbirds are “brood parasites,” which means they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Cowbird eggs hatch faster than other species’ eggs, giving cowbird nestlings a head start in getting food from the parents. The result for Kirtland’s warblers was a reduction in the numbers of young produced.

Photo by Dan Elbert; USFWS


1973 – Endangered Species Act signed into law
Kirtland’s warbler officially declared "endangered."  The ESA also provided for acquisition of land to increase available habitat, funding to carry out additional management programs, provisions for state cooperation with the Federal Government and establishment of various legal protections for endangered species.


1974 – Michigan Endangered Species Act passed into law


1974 - Kirtland’s warbler census counts a new low of 167 singing males


1975 – Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team formed


1976 - Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Plan prepared

The recovery plan outlined steps designed to increase the species' population.


1980 – Mack Lake Fire burned more than 25,000 acres

In 1980, changing weather conditions and spot fires associated with the Crane Lake prescribed burn near Mio, Michigan resulted in the Mack Lake Fire—a wildfire that burned over 25,000 acres, destroyed 44 homes, and took the life of James Swiderski, a U.S.Forest Service biologist. After this tragedy, agencies eliminated the use of prescribed burning in mature jack pine to regenerate Kirtland's warbler habitat. With advances in fire science over the last 30 years, however, agencies are slowly beginning to incorporate prescribed fire back into Kirtland’s warbler management.


For Kirtland’s warbler, a process of clear-cutting and manually or mechanically planting jack pine seedlings is the primary means for regenerating habitat today. Seedlings are planted in an opposing wave pattern to create the jack pine thickets and scattered openings Kirtland’s warblers prefer. 

Photo by Dan Elbert; USFWS


1980 – USFWS Kirtland’s Warbler Wildlife Management Area

Established in the in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan – managed by Seney National Wildlife Refuge


1981 - Kirtland's Warbler Management Areas established by the U.S. Forest Service and Michigan DNR.

Expanded over the following decades, the management areas now include more than 219,000 acres 


Kirtland's warbler breeding habitat of young jack pine in Michigan.

Kirtland's warblers nest and raise their chicks in stands of young jack pine.

Photo by Dan Elbert; USFWS


1981 -  First interagency Kirtland's Warbler Habitat Management Plan developed


1985 – Recovery Plan updated


1987 – Record low point matched

Record low point of Kirtland’s Warbler numbers matched; only 167 singing males observed.


Male KIrtland's warbler in hand on the left and female in hand on the right.

Male on the left and female on the right.

Photo by Dan Elbert; USFWS


1994 – First annual Kirtland’s Warbler Festival

Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt, speaks at the first festival in Mio, Michigan. 


1994 – Kirtland’s warbler nesting documented in the upper peninsula of Michigan for the first time.


2001 - Recovery goal surpassed

The count of singing males exceeds the recovery goal for the first time.  Annual census of singing males indicates a population of 1,083 pairs, well over the minimum numeric recovery goal of 1,000 pairs.


2001 - Kirtland's Warbler Habitat Management Strategy revised

The interagency Strategy for Kirtland's Warbler Habitat Management replaced the 1981 Kirtland’s Warbler Management Plan and made substantial changes to Kirtland’s warbler management.


2007 - Kirtland’s warbler nesting documented in Wisconsin, for the first time


A female Kirtland's warbler in her nest looking through an overhanging branch.

This female Kirtland's warbler peeks out from her nest. The nest is built on the ground, often in a depression with overhanging grass or branches.

Photo by Dan Elbert, USFWS


2007 - Nesting confirmed in Ontario, Canada


2011 - USFWS, Michigan DNR, and Forest Service sign Memorandum of Understanding

To address the need for continuing management, the Service, Michigan DNR, and Forest Service agreed to manage for the species, regardless of its status under the Endangered Species Act. This agreement was included in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the three agencies.


2013 - Kirtland's Warbler Alliance formed

The Kirtland's Warbler Alliance is non-profit public and private partnership with the mission to ensure long-term viability of the Kirtland's warbler in advance of and after delisting from the ESA and foster a broad understanding of the jack pine ecosystem.  


2015 - Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan developed

The interagency Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan replaced the 2001 Strategy for Kirtland’s Warbler Management.


2016 - USFWS, Michigan DNR, and Forest Service renewed their 2011 agreement.


2016 - Kirtland's Warbler Conservation Team is formed


2016 - Service and Michigan DNR signed a Memorandum of Agreement to help address long-term conservation

The Service and Michigan DNR signed a Memorandum of Agreement to set up a process for managing funds to help address long-term conservation needs, specifically brown-headed cowbird control.


2018 Kirtland's warbler proposed for delisting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes removing the Kirtland’s warbler from the list of endangered species.


2019 - Kirtland's warbler removed from list of endangered species


Photo courtesy of Joel Trick

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