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Kirtland's Warbler

   Photo: ©DND/D.Coulson

Features: Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) is a large warbler identified by its darkly- streaked blue gray back, dark cheek patches, and pale yellow under parts, streaked heavily with black on the sides. This bird is critically endangered, owing in large part to its extremely specific habitat requirements. It nests on the ground, on well drained soil, under the low living branches of 8 to 20 year old jack pines. Older trees that have lost their lower branches provide insufficient cover, and are not used.

Status: Endangered Provincially and Nationally

Range: The primary breeding range of Kirtland's Warbler is the jack pine plains of central Michigan. In Ontario, breeding probably occurred in jack pine plains near Pembroke in the late 1930's. It is unlikely that the province was ever a significant part of the species' breeding range, at least in historic times. Although there are extensive jack pine forests in northern Ontario, many stands do not have trees in the required age and size classes, while in others, soil conditions in spring are too wet for this ground nesting bird. Spring and fall sightings of single non-breeding birds are occasionally reported in southern Ontario. In 2007 and 2008, Kirtlandís Warbler nests were found on CFB Petawawa, near Pembroke.

Threats: The control of forest fires has been a key factor in the decline of this species. In natural ecosystems fire played an important role in opening up large areas for colonization by young jack pine. Kirtland's Warbler also has the misfortune to be plagued by the nest-parasitising Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater). Female cowbirds remove warbler eggs from the nest and deposit their own eggs to be hatched out and raised to maturity by the warblers. In addition to threats on the breeding range, the Kirtland's Warbler experiences high mortality on wintering grounds in the Bahamas, probably as a result of deforestation.

Protection: In Canada, the Kirtland's Warbler is protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and under Ontario's Endangered Species Act, 2007, which prohibits actions such as killing, capturing, possessing, selling or trading the species, or damaging or destroying its habitat. For over 20 years, the State of Michigan has implemented an intensive recovery program for the species, consisting of cowbird control and the use of habitat management techniques such as controlled burns and reforestation. Implementation of the recovery program will be necessary in perpetuity if this species is to survive.

Text Sources: Bowman and McKeating 1977; Chamberlain 1979

Last Modified Date: October 2008

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