Newsroom Midwest Region

News Release
November 20, 2012

Georgia Parham 812-334-4261 x 1203

2012 Marks a Banner Year for Endangered Kirtland’s Warblers

Fledgling. Photo by Joel Trick/USFWS
Fledgling. Photo by Joel Trick/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 2012 has been a banner year for endangered Kirtland’s warblers. Survey results of the rare bird in Michigan and Wisconsin scored a new record, with 2,090 singing males, up from 1,828 last year.

“It was only 1987 when we tied an all-time low of 167 singing males. This is a pretty remarkable recovery -- 12 times the population size from where it was just a short 25 years ago,” said Scott Hicks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s East Lansing Field Office Supervisor.

Biologists, researchers and volunteers in Michigan observed 2,063 singing males during the official 2012 survey period – up from 1,805 in 2011. In Wisconsin, volunteers and paid monitors found and tracked singing male Kirtland’s warblers and were able to monitor nesting. Kirtland’s warblers were recorded in five counties in Wisconsin (Adams, Douglas, Bayfield, Vilas, and Marinette), and at least 24 singing males were verified. Another four males were counted in Ontario. The Kirtland's warbler survey is conducted during the second and third weeks of June, when the birds are defending their nesting territories. Researchers count the birds by tabulating the number of singing males.

Kirtland’s warblers typically nest on the ground in stands of jack pine between 4 and 20 years old. Historically, these stands of young jack pine were created by natural wildfires that frequently swept through northern Michigan, but fire suppression efforts changed natural processes and reduced Kirtland's warbler habitat. As populations dropped, the species also became vulnerable to nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Populations dropped and the species was listed as endangered in 1967.

Efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, states and other partners to conserve and recover the Kirtland’s warbler include managing habitat through a combination of timber harvests, burning, seeding and replanting. The partners have also implemented a cowbird removal program.

The rarity of the Kirtland’s warbler makes it popular with birdwatchers. Each year, in late spring and early summer, birders from around the globe trek to northern Lower Michigan to see Kirtland’s warblers. This year, 687 tourists took advantage of guided tours, an 18 percent increase from last year's number. Tourists came from 37 of 50 states, Puerto Rico and five foreign countries.

For photos of Kirtland’s warblers, and information on efforts to conserve the species, education programs and opportunities to view warblers in late spring and early summer, visit