Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 11, 2018
Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Endangered Species Act Success: Recovering Kirtland's Warbler Songbird in Michigan Proposed for Delisting

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed removing Endangered Species Act protections for the Kirtland’s warbler based on the rare songbird’s growing numbers and ongoing management of its habitat. 

The warbler declined to a low of just 167 singing males in 1987. But by 2015 more than 2,300 were found in Michigan, Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario. 

“This pretty little songbird’s amazing comeback from the brink of extinction is a testament to the success of the Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Contrary to the self-interested claims of congressional Republicans, this 45-year-old law is working to save species. Without it, we would have lost the warbler forever.”

Kirtland's warbler population graph

The warbler has one of the smallest breeding ranges of any North American migratory songbird. It is entirely dependent on young jack pine forests that develop after fires, and the bird’s decline was driven by a combination of fire suppression and urban sprawl that led to lost and fragmented habitat. Its recovery has depended on massive federal and state efforts to recover jack pine forests and trap brown-headed cowbirds, which parasitize the nests of the warblers and benefit from human settlement. 

“It’s hard work to recover endangered species like the Kirtland’s warbler, but today’s decision proves it can be done,” said Greenwald. “The warbler appears to be secure, but this bird will need continued monitoring to ensure habitat is maintained and threats like climate change don’t again drive down populations.”

Most breeding Kirtland’s warblers are found in the lower peninsula of Michigan, but they are also found in the upper peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario. They are surveyed by counting conspicuous singing males.

The warblers overwinter on a number of low-lying islands in the Bahamas. Rising seas related to climate change could present a new threat to the species and necessitates ongoing monitoring.     

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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