Sometime in June, somewhere around the Great Lakes, perched at the very top of a tree in a young, densely growing forest, a male Kirtland’s Warbler throws back his head and lets rip with a series of bubbly, clear notes that steadily rise in pitch, tempo, and volume: chip-chip-che-way-o. Spring is here! I’ve found the perfect spot, he calls.
He had to work hard to find it. This is a bird that has come back from the brink. In 1973, when legislation to protect endangered species was introduced in the United States (1977 in Canada), the Kirtland’s (Setophaga kirtlandii
) was one of the first on the list, its global population down to an estimated 300-500 birds. Now it’s up to 5,500, breeding mostly in Michigan, where conservation efforts started in the 60s.
The habitat that meets this bird’s needs is so specific. It occurs only in the Great Lakes basin, mainly south of the Canadian Shield: Sandy soil with young pine and oak trees, 10 to 20 years old, growing densely with frequent clearings, with an understory of native shrubs and ground cover of native forbs and grasses to generate the insect populations and fruit required to feed young. It nests on the ground, sheltered by the boughs that sweep down to soil level. As the trees age, they drop these lowest branches and these warblers have to move on. Read more