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Mississippi Flyway Stand-out Species: Kirtland's Warbler

Pacific Flyway:
Calliope Hummingbird

Central Flyway:
Whooping Crane

Mississippi Flyway:
Kirtland's Warbler

Atlantic Flyway:
Wood Thrush

Over the last three weeks, BirdNote has highlighted special birds in each of the North American flyways: Wood Thrush in the Atlantic, Whooping Crane in the Central, and Calliope Hummingbird in the Pacific Flyway.

Which special bird did BirdNote select for our fourth, and final, installment?

The endangered Kirtland's Warbler in the Mississippi Flyway.

Kirtland's Warbler © Matthew Studebaker

The Kirtland's Warbler is one of the rarest birds in North America.

The reason? Its breeding range is limited to a few locations in the Mississippi flyway, in very specific habitat, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario.

Kirtland's Warblers are picky about their nest sites. They require locations under jack pines that are more than five years old – but not more than 15 years old. And the sites must be in well-drained, sandy soil. Consequently, the Kirtland's Warbler has one of the smallest breeding ranges of any bird in North America.

Historically, forest fires benefited Kirtland's Warblers by clearing out older trees, causing cones to release seeds, and enriching the soil for young jack pines to grow. But fire suppression and an influx of Brown-headed Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the nests of other songbirds, nearly drove the Kirtland's Warbler to extinction. Only 167 singing males were found during a survey in 1987.

Fortunately, conservation efforts that began in the 1950s are paying off. Today, people come from all over the world to see Kirtland's Warblers in their native habitat in Michigan. Thankfully, as of 2012, there are over 2,000 singing males to welcome them!

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