A Songbird in Need of Saving

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The forests of the Northern Great Lakes are diverse; including aspen, northern hardwoods of sugar maple, beech and birch, and white, red and jack pine. While these pine forests are not extremely common, they are extremely important to one particular species – the Kirtland’s warbler.

This little songbird is uniquely picky in its nesting preferences. Unless a tree is a jack pine between 5 and 20 years old, has upwards of 1.5 acres available, and sits on Grayling sand, the Kirtland’s warbler probably isn’t interested. Such strict requirements coupled with threats from wildfire suppression and parasitic species created a dangerous situation for the warbler. In 1967, the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act, and in 1987, just 167 male Kirtland’s warblers existed. A beautiful songbird on the brink of extinction, this species was in dire need of help.

For nearly 30 years, American Forests has been working to restore the jack pine forests that the Kirtland’s warbler depends on for survival. We’ve planted trees in Michigan and Wisconsin, and supported the northward shift of the warbler’s habitat with extended planting in Ontario. This work has resulted in nearly 4.6 million jack pines planted across 4,200 acres and has yielded tremendous progress – species counts were over 4,000 in the fall of 2017.

Our hard work has paid off – the Kirtland’s warbler has been proposed for delisting from the Endangered Species Act, with a public comment period open through July 2018. While things are looking up for the species, there is still plenty to be done. In the absence of close federal protection, maintaining the warbler’s habitat will require special attention. Along with our partners, we’re ready to take on the next set of challenges to the Kirtland’s warbler to ensure strong populations for years to come.

Our Experts

Eric Sprague, Director of Forest Conservation

Phone: 202.370.4516
Email Eric

Rebecca Turner, Senior Director, Programs and Policy

Phone: 202.370.4521
Email Rebecca

Our Partners

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

American Forests and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are currently in the second year of a five-year partnership that will plant 5 million jack pine trees on more than 3,000 acres of managed state forest land. Through creating the next generation of young forests for the warbler, the partnership helps to fill funding gaps and ensure that the species will remain secure.

Simcoe County/Canadian Wildlife Service

As climate change influences temperatures and precipitation in jack pine ranges, the need for jack pine restoration will grow, expanding the Kirtland’s warbler’s range. American Forests is currently partnering with Simcoe County, Ontario, and the Canadian Wildlife Service to implement the first-ever Kirtland’s warbler habitat restoration in Canada.