You want some good news today, don’t you?
Here it is: The Kirtland’s warbler appears to be making a comeback.
The Associated Press reports today that the little songbird, which was close to extinction a couple of decades ago, has recovered to the point that it’s staking out new territory in the Uper Midwest.
This was particularly interesting to me after recently reading "A Supremely Bad Idea," by birding enthusiast Luke Dempsey. The hope of seeing a Kirtland’s warbler was the primary reason Dempsey and his two friends made a trip to Michigan. Dempsey bewailed the demise of the Kirtland’s, while noting that its fussy habitat requirements contribute to the problem. Kirtland’s warblers nest and breed almost entirely in young jack pines typically found in the northeastern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. They spend their winters in the Bahamas, which seems like a good idea.
In 1987, biologists could only find 167 singing male Kirtland’s warblers.
Their plight wasn’t ignored. State and federal agencies have been clearcutting and burning older trees from their habitat zone and planting or seeding about 3,000 acres of jack pines each year on state and federal lands.
The effort is paying off. The count of singing males has exceeded 1,000 for seven consecutive years. This year, it reached 1,791, the most since counting began in 1951. Biologists assume one female for every male, so they think more than 3,500 of the species exist today. And they’re finding new breeding grounds: Thirty-four singing males turned up in five Upper Peninsual counties this summer, nine were heard in Wisconsin, and one pair turned up in Ontario.
The improvement hasn’t happened by accident, and it isn’t irreversible.
"It points out the importance of continuing to protect the habitat," said Sherry MacKinnon, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ acting endangered species coordinator, in the AP story. "If we decline on that, the birds are going to be declining."