By Michelle Werts

Everyone knows that birds and trees have a special relationship. For birds, trees provide shelter and food, and for many trees, birds help them reproduce by distributing their seeds. But this relationship can’t be taken for granted, and to protect one, we must protect the other.

Kirtland’s warbler
Kirtland’s warbler. Credit: Joel Trick/USFWS

During my Michigan adventure last week, my colleagues and I visited Hiawatha National Forest, where American Forests Global ReLeaf has supported many projects in the last decade. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Hiawatha is one million acres of diverse forestland and recreation opportunities — and it’s a place where planning and management are underway to protect an endangered species and its favorite trees.

In the 1980s, the world’s Kirtland’s warbler population had shrunk to a few hundred singing males recorded in the wild. Over the last few decades, foresters, forest managers, wildlife experts and others have helped that species recover by controlling the brown-headed cowbird population in Michigan and the upper Midwest — the only place in the world that the Kirtland’s warbler is found — and preserving Jack pine forests, which are the preferred habitat of Kirtalnd’s warbler. Now, the recorded Kirtland’s warbler singing male population is more than 2,000 in Michigan, which surpasses the original recovery plan’s goal. The bird isn’t out of the woods, though, as its continued population health is contingent on making sure that sufficient habitat is always available, which means making sure new Jack pine stands are planted or replanted each year.

Examining a young Jack pine in Michigan's Hiawatha National Forest.
Examining a young Jack pine in Michigan’s Hiawatha National Forest. Credit: Michelle Werts/American Forests

Our friends at Hiawatha predict that in the next few decades, more and more Kirtland’s warbler will be finding their way north, and since the bird only accepts Jack pine forests that are at least four years old as habitat, now is the time to make sure the species has a northern home to turn to. This is why we’ve been partnering with Hiawatha consistently since 2007, as we’re planning for the Kirtland’s warbler’s future. (Fun Fact: The first Global ReLeaf project was planting Jack pine for Kirtland’s warbler back in 1990.)

But Jack pine and Kirtland’s warbler aren’t the only twosome that needs to be looked after in the country. Our friends at the American Bird Conservancy have put together a series of helpful guides on how to manage forests across the country for various species of birds.

  • Land Manager’s Guide to Cavity-Nesting Bird Habitat and Populations in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Pacific Northwest – This guide is intended to provide land managers in ponderosa pine habitats with information on bird species’ status, distribution, density, habitat relationships and potential responses to habitat management or restoration activities.
  • An acorn woodpecker, a species associated with Pacific Northwest oak habitat
    An acorn woodpecker, a species associated with Pacific Northwest oak habitat. Credit: Don DeBold

    Land Manager’s Guide to Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest Part One | Part Two – This provides land managers in oak habitats with information on bird species’ status, distribution, density, habitat relationships, and potential responses to oak habitat management or restoration activities. The report is divided into two downloadable files; part one is the land manager’s guide, and part two are the species accounts.

  • Managing Land in the Piedmont of Virginia for the Benefit of Birds and Other Wildlife – Often overlooked in its importance to birds, the Piedmont provides valuable nesting, migration and wintering habitat that is scarce in other parts of the state. This report details the many simple changes one can make to benefit birds in this region.
  • Northeast Bird Monitoring Handbook – This handbook presents 10 steps that optimize the value of bird monitoring when designing new programs, modifying existing ones or applying results to the practice of bird conservation.
  • Field Guide to Southeast Bird Monitoring Protocols and Programs – This guide is targeted at researchers, land managers and biologists in the southeast bird conservation community and beyond. The main objective of the guide is to serve as a starting point when considering a monitoring program by summarizing many of the protocols that are available.

As you can see, there are many, many factors that must be considered in ensuring healthy forest habitats. And we’re only talking about how to keep them healthy for bird populations. When you add in keeping forests healthy for other wildlife species, for human recreation, for drinking water, for clean air and more, well, it’s a big job. That’s why we’ve been helping forests since 1875 thanks to the help of members like you.