For 50 years, the Kirtland warbler has been on the endangered species list (ESL). Stretching back before the creation of the ESL, in 1971 there were only around 200 singing male warblers left occupying 6 counties of Michigan’s lower peninsula.
The last census however, gathered remarkably by counting individual songs, found that their population has increased 11 fold, to 2,383 birds.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have described the 50-year project as a regulatory and collaborative success story, citing the outstanding work of the Michigan State wildlife authorities who have worked for 50 years to extend nesting habitat and reduce brood parasitism spread by competitor species.
The revival of the notably loudmouthed songbird has been described “a shining example of what it takes to save imperiled species,” by Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Kirtland warbler, with its beautiful golden bib in the center of azure-grey feathers, has spread geographically as its population has expanded.
“Conservation of the Kirtland’s warbler will continue to require a coordinated, multi-agency approach for planning and implementing conservation efforts into the future,” FWS stated, citing the need for partnerships and “sufficient funding” to continue conservation work.
The bird was first placed on the ESL as a result of habitat loss from the wildfire prevention techniques applied to Jack Pine forests – the warbler’s home. This disruption of the natural disturbance of pines by fires prevented the forests from functioning properly, and thus habitat began to recede.
90,000 acres additional acres of Jack Pines have been created since then and efforts to reduce the population of the brown-headed cowbird – an infamous competitor means that the Kirtland warbler’s population was able to recover.