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Success Story: Kirtland’s Warbler population growing two years after delisting

A male Kirtland's warbler is shown singing while perched.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
A male Kirtland's warbler is shown singing while perched.

Conservationists call the Kirtland’s Warbler rebound a success story.

The songbird was one of the first species to go on the endangered species list 1973.

Populations sunk to a low of 167 pairs before rebounding to 2,000 pairs when it was removed from the list in 2019.

For the last 20 years, if you wanted to see a Kirtland’s Warbler in the U.S. you had to go the northern parts of the lower peninsula of Michigan. Even then, your chances weren’t great.

That’s now starting to change.

State and Federal wildlife organizations recently released the results of Kirtland’s Warbler population count.

“Just because a species gets taken off the endangered species list or the threatened list, monitoring of that species continues as part of the delisting for several years afterwards,” said John Pepin, Deputy Public Information Officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The census found the Kirtland’s Warbler global population is estimated at 2,245 pairs, more than double of the recovery goal.

The survey also found that the birds are continuing to expand in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. 67 singing males were found across the UP and 39 in Wisconsin, mainly in Adam’s County.

That’s an all-time high for Wisconsin.

“It’s an indication that they are finding success in these areas that are taking them out of that one particular sort of home location where they were in the northcentral part of the state,” said Pepin.

Pepin said a key part of their recovery has been rebuilding and improving habitat for the birds.

Kirtland’s Warbler thrive in young jack pine forests.

Natural wildfires used to help maintain that habitat for them, but humans work to suppress those large fires.

Pepin said that puts it on humans to help improve their habitat.

“What we’re doing is harvesting mature jack pine and also replanting jack pine seedlings to replicate that sort of young forest growth in regeneration that is really important for them to nest in,” he said.

Pepin attributes this success story to the hard work individuals, groups, and state and federal resources working together to repair warbler habitat.

Something he says they’ll have to keep to doing to ensure this species continues to thrive.

“It will continue to need help from humans as we go forward, but the gains that have been made now took place over decades, it’s really been a great success story,” Pepin said.

You can learn more about Kirtland's Warbler on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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