Kirtland's warbler officially comes off federal endangered species list

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

The Kirtland’s warbler officially came off the federal government's list of protected species Friday, officials said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month the bird would be removed from the endangered species list.

A Kirtland's warbler photographed near Mio, Mich., on May 19, 2008. The songbird lives in the jack pine forests of northern Michigan.

The small, yellow-bellied songbird had recovered more than half a century after being designated as endangered. The bird nests on the ground beneath young jack pines in northern Michigan, parts of Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario. 

MoreOnce nearly extinct, Kirtland’s warbler coming off endangered list

"Perhaps one of the best components of the Kirtland’s Warbler conservation success story is how addressing endangerment was not done in a siloed fashion — it was done collaboratively and with the essential elements and guidelines of ecology in mind," Michigan Audubon Executive Director Heather Good said in a statement Friday.

"The degree to which forest management priorities were dedicated to responding to, supporting, and sustaining the recovery of the Kirtland’s Warbler is truly remarkable and absolutely necessary in achieving the recovery that we have for this bird."

Michigan Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization that has 18 sanctuaries and more than 30 local chapters across the state.

Listed as endangered in 1967, its population later hit a record low of only 167 pairs. By the 1970s, the Kirtland’s Warbler had experienced a 60% population decline. The current population is estimated to surpass 2,300 breeding pairs across its range. 

Kirtland's Warbler

One reason for the warbler's decline was attributed to human-caused suppression of natural wildfires, crucial for maintaining suitable habitat for the warbler, in the early twentieth century.

To address the problem, agencies developed a system of logging overgrown pine stands and replanting new ones to imitate what nature previously did.

Another threat was the population of the brown-headed cowbird skyrocketed. The species acts as a parasite and lays its eggs in Kirtland’s Warbler nests, resulting in robust cowbird chicks that easily outcompete warbler chicks for survival.

To reduce the number of cowbirds, the Fish and Wildlife Service placed traps with decoys or food for them in the warbler zone. Once nabbed, the cowbirds were euthanized.

Officials said that even though the Kirtland’s Warbler population is stable and rising in Michigan as well as in Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada, it's critical implemented conservation efforts continue.