Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)


One of the most rare members of the Paulidae family is the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii). This is a fascinating bird species seen on occasion in the jack pine forests of Michigan where it is reliant on very specific habitat. Kirtland’s Warblers are endemic to the USA and are found only in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Much needs to be done if the Kirtland’s Warbler is to survive and the first step is gaining knowledge about the elusive species.

As a rare bird species, the Kirtland’s Warbler was only first described by scientists in 1851. The newly discovered species was named after Dr. Jared Kirtland, author of a list of Ohio’s animals. The Kirtland’s Warbler is a small songbird measuring about 5 inches in length. As an insect-eater, the warbler’s bill is thin and pointed. The nape and upperparts are grey whilst the throat, belly and breast are yellow. Its undertail covers are white and the wings have dull white bars. Its sides and flanks are streaked. The Kirtland’s Warbler is also easily identified by its constant tail wagging. The male and female are similar but males have black streaks on their back and black lores. If you are looking out for the Kirtland’s Warbler, you may hear it before you see it, so listen for a clear, loud “chip-chip-che-way-o”.

Kirtland’s Warblers are very choosy when it comes to habitat, the females even more so than the males. These warblers will only nest in small jack pines. Jack pines will only release their seeds after a fire so the warbler will only come to nest there 6 years after a fire when the young tree is around 2 m high. As the tree reaches over 3 m in height, the Kirtland’s Warbler will vacate the area. Kirtland’s Warblers are known as neotropical migrants. Males arriving back from the Bahamas in breeding season will establish territories. The female builds the nest whilst the male warbler supplies her with sustenance. A clutch contains 3 to 6 eggs and incubation lasts 14 to 15 days. The young ones fledge quickly in about 12 to 13 days.

The numbers of Kirtland’s Warbler populations has decreased largely due to the suppression of fire necessary for their chosen habitat. They also suffer due to nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. Extensive conservation efforts are being made to protect the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.