It’s not that Kirtland’s Warblers are shy birds that makes them a bird every birdwatcher wants to add to their life list.
Kirtland’s Warblers are one of the most vocal birds in the spring and are often seen singing on a top, outside branch of a tree or shrub.
It’s that they’re one of the most rare songbirds to find in North America.
Their distinctive call has birders out in the woods in a two-hour rain shower (as I did yesterday morning) peering through cherry saplings and gnarly looking young Jack Pine trees, searching for the small gray and yellow warbler with the broken eye ring.
And this weekend, I saw not one, not two, but six Kirtland’s Warblers in the northern woods of Michigan.
And heard, but couldn’t find, eight other Kirtland’s Warblers.
After my attempt last year to view the Kirtland’s Warbler (I caught a glimpse of one bird as I was leaving the trail), I can say this year’s trip was a wonderful adventure where I saw the rare bird and managed to get several photos.
In addition to seeing so many of the birds, I heard my first Kirtland’s Warbler within three minutes of being on the trail.
I had a wonderful time meeting and chatting with other birders looking for the rare bird.
The couple who drove 14 hours from Minnesota through the Upper Peninsula to see the warbler, only stopping twice for a bathroom break and to get something to eat.
A veteran birder from Oklahoma who grinned from ear-to-ear as he told me about seeing the Kirtland’s Warbler for the first time.
And the group of 13 birders from an Indiana Audubon group who I met on two different trails 20 miles apart on the same day.
About the Kirtland’s Warbler
One of the larger warblers, the Kirtland’s Warbler is known to prefer nesting in Jack Pine forests, a common forest type in mid-Michigan.
The bird migrates from the Bahamas every year, returning to the forests near Grayling, Michigan.
Unfortunately, loss of habitat and lack of fires which Jack Pines depend on as well as parasitization by Brown-headed Cowbirds reduced the number of Kirtland’s Warblers in the late 20th century.
When only an estimated 200 breeding pairs of Kirtland’s Warblers in the world were found in the 1970’s, a concerted effort was made to increase the number of birds.
The Kirtland’s Warbler was placed on the endangered species list in 1974 as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Audubon Society, and U.S. Forest Service partnered together to take steps to increase habitat and control Brown-headed Cowbirds.
The Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Plan was established in 1976 with the goal of establishing a minimum of 1,000 breeding pairs.
Eventually, more than 210,000 acres of public land was specifically managed for the Kirtland’s Warbler.
Their conservation efforts paid off; current estimates are there are now more than 2,300 nesting pairs (double the goal) of Kirtland’s Warblers.
In recent years, Kirtland’s Warblers have also been found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, and portions of Ontario, Canada.
In April 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the Kirtland’s Warblers would be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species, a wonderful ending to the recovery efforts.