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Census: Once-endangered Kirtland’s warbler population stable

Kirtland's Warbler
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Kirtland's Warbler

The population is expected to remain above 4,000 for the foreseeable future.

Once endangered, the Kirtland’s warbler is maintaining healthy numbers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario and expanding its range, officials said Monday.

The songbird’s population was estimated at 4,490 following a June survey — the first full count since 2015, when the total was put at 4,730.

The slight drop-off isn’t a concern because the tally’s accuracy is variable, said Keith Kintigh, who coordinates warbler management for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The population is expected to remain above 4,000 for the foreseeable future, Kintigh said.

“The power of partnership continues to yield excellent results for the Kirtland’s warbler after coming off the endangered species list,” said Charlie Wooley, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With blue-gray back feathers and a yellow underside, the warbler nests primarily in jack pine forests of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Habitat loss and cowbird invasions sent its numbers as low as 334 in 1987.

State and federal agencies worked with nonprofits to develop a system of harvesting and replanting jack pine stands.

The warbler gradually rebounded and in 2019 was dropped from the endangered list, although continuous habitat restoration is needed to prevent another decline.

The census is based on numbers of singing males survey teams detect, each presumed to have a mate. This year, warblers were found in the Manistee National Forest for the first time since 1977.

Record numbers also were recorded in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario.