Kirtland’s Warbler removed from Endangered Species List

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan. Photo by Jim Hudgins/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In a move that has been anticipated for months, if not a few years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it is removing the Kirtland’s Warbler from the federal Endangered Species List.

The bird, listed as endangered since the late 1960s, saw its population dip to a low of 167 pairs in 1974 and again in 1987 before it began a steady climb toward recovery. The current population is estimated to be around 2,000 pairs, double the goal identified in the species’ recovery plan. The population has exceeded recovery goals for the past 17 years and continues to increase and expand its range, the agency says. 

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Kirtland’s Warbler winters in the Bahamas and breeds in young stands of jack pine trees. For many years, the breeding range was only in Michigan, but more than 10 years ago, the warbler expanded into forests in neighboring Ontario and Wisconsin.

The official delisting rule was announced at a ceremony on the campus of Michigan State University.

“The effort to recover the Kirtland’s Warbler is a shining example of what it takes to save imperiled species,” said Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the FWS. “Truly dedicated partners have worked together for decades to recover this songbird. I thank them for their efforts and applaud this historic conservation success.”

Shawn Graff, vice president of American Bird Conservancy’s Great Lakes program, says “The delisting of the Kirtland’s Warbler is cause for celebration and proof that the Endangered Species Act works. But this warbler is still among the rarest, most range-restricted migratory songbirds in North America. It is conservation-reliant, meaning that continued management efforts are imperative for the population to hold its ground and continue to expand.”

ABC has launched a long-term fund, raising private resources to maintain conservation support and meet emerging needs for the species in the future. The fund is being managed to generate sustainable revenue for important research, habitat development, and community outreach efforts throughout the species’ range.

This revenue will complement continuing efforts of state and federal agencies to maintain the highly specific habitat the Kirtland’s Warbler needs for breeding, and to limit impacts from Brown-headed Cowbirds, which contributed to its decline through brood parasitism. This private-public partnership represents a new model for addressing the ongoing needs of a delisted, conservation-reliant bird species.

The work was made possible thanks to major philanthropic support from the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation of Midland, Michigan.

In addition, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service are also pledging their commitment to continue habitat management and engage in partnerships that support the Kirtland’s Warbler’s population growth.

Study: Cowbird trapping no longer necessary to protect Kirtland’s Warbler

Learn more about the warbler’s recovery

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