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Kirtland’s Warbler: North America’s rarest songbird

This Kirtland's Warbler was photographed in Adams County, Wisconsin. Photo by Joel Trick/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
This Kirtland’s Warbler was photographed in Adams County, Wisconsin. Photo by Joel Trick/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Readers of BirdWatching in early 2013 voted Kirtland’s Warbler the seventh most-wanted bird in the United States and Canada. Here’s what you need to know to add it to your life list.

Description, range, and population

DESCRIPTION. Blue-gray above and yellow below. Streaked sides, broken white eye ring. Female paler with spots on breast. Pumps tail constantly. (ABA Code 2)

RANGE. Breeds in the northern portion of lower Michigan, the state’s upper peninsula, central Wisconsin, and eastern Ontario. Winters on Eleuthera and other islands in the Bahamas.

POPULATION. 2012 census: 2,063 singing males in Michigan, 23 in Wisconsin, 4 in Ontario. Total: 2,090. Endangered. (Find updates on Wisconsin’s population here.)

View a real-time eBird map.

Viewing locations

Forests near Mio and Grayling, Michigan, and in central Wisconsin



Kirtland’s Warbler Tours: Led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S Forest Service, and Michigan Audubon Society, Grayling, Michigan, mid-May through early July

Wisconsin Society for Ornithology: Annual Kirtland’s Warbler field trip for members, mid-May

Field Guides: Bahamas: Abaco, Eleuthera and Kirtland’s Warbler, March 11-16, 2014, March 10-15, 2015

Wings: Spring Migration in the Midwest: Eastern Wood Warblers including Kirtland’s, May 7-18, 2014


Partnership for International Birding: Springtime Birding in Ohio and Michigan: Magee Marsh and Grayling for Kirtland’s Warbler, May 11-16 and 12-17, 2014

Eagle-Eye Tours: Point Pelee, Algonquin Park and the Kirtland’s Warbler, May 15-26, 2015

BirdQuest: Michigan and New Hampshire: Kirtland’s Warbler, Bicknell’s Thrush and more, May 26-June 1, 2014

Tour to watch for

MICHIGAN: Point Pelee and Upper Michigan Migration, Avocet Tours


About our poll

We wanted to know, and you told us.

Earlier this year, we published a list of 240 bird species that occur in the United States and Canada and asked readers of BirdWatching magazine to choose the 10 that they wanted to see most.

We derived our list from the authoritative ABA Checklist. We included all rare, casual, and accidental species (ABA Checklist Codes 3, 4, and 5); regularly occurring North American species that are not widespread (Codes 1 and 2); and one species that was once dangerously close to extinction but today is surviving in captivity and struggling to become naturally re-established (Code 6). We omitted most species not native to North America.

Nearly 900 of our readers participated. Their 10 most-wanted birds include three owls, a handful of endangered species, a clown-faced puffin, a blue-footed seabird that is rarely spotted in the United States, and America’s one and only condor.


We presented the 10 most-wanted birds in the August 2013 issue of BirdWatching. Our article included not only the descriptions, population info, and eBird maps above but also 10 things you didn’t know about each species.

Originally Published

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