The Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)  is one of the rarest of all the wood warblers. The population of this little gem is restricted mostly to  just a few counties in Michigan’s northern Lower and Upper peninsulas. They nest only in jack pine (Pinus banksiana) forests and have long eluded even determined birders. It goes without saying that the Kirtland’s warbler has long been considered an endangered species.

Well, this warbler is blazing back, thanks to an otherwise unfortunate inferno. Sally Eisle of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports:

Logging and fire prevention efforts brought the bird close to extinction. In 1987, researchers counted only 167 singing males. Ironically, a tragic accident marked a turning point for the warbler. In 1980, what had begun as a small controlled burn to create nesting ground for the bird turned into a massive wildfire, killing a Forest Service worker and engulfing the small village of Mack Lake. But Rex Ennis, head of the Warbler Recovery Team, says the disaster eventually created 25,000 acres of ideal warbler habitat. Unexpectedly the bird began to thrive.

“There was loss of life, loss of property which were all tragedies when you looked at that… but the end result of that was it created an ecological condition we saw the warbler respond to. Those things we learned from that wildfire made our current management strategy very successful.”

Note that you can either read this excellent article by GLRC or listen to it.

Birders and conservationists may value the resurgence of the Kirtland’s warbler, but not everyone is as pleased. Hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts complain about the fact that the warbler management area restricts access to the state and national forests. Still, there’s a lot of love for this singing survivor. Locals even hold an annual Kirtland’s Warbler Festival, and there is always talk of making this warbler the Michigan state bird.

The Jack Pine warbler (as it is sometimes called) population now includes roughly 1,340 singing males, up from only 1,050 in 2002.  This is held up as proof of the power of the Endangered Species Act. However, proponents for peeling back this bird’s endangered status should slow down; most Kirtland’s warblers are counted on man-made plantations. For the time being, this bird, like so many others, lives at the mercy of the human race.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.