02 November 2008


In 2006, The Audubon Society listed the tiny Kirtland’s Warbler as the fifth most endangered bird species, behind the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, California Condor, Whooping Crane, and Gunnison Sage Grouse. in 1989, the total population was estimated to be around 200 total birds.  The main reason for the decline of this species is the loss of suitable nesting habitat. You see, this bird has very specific habitat needs. It requires young jack pine forest, growing in very well drained sandy soil, with trees between 5 and 15 feet tall, under which it builds its nest. Current fire management practices has greatly reduced the normally natural occurrence of this habitat type. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources now manages 150,000 acres of jack pine forest specifically for this bird.  A practice that has yielded some very good results. The most recent census of singing males recorded over 1,400 individuals with birds recently showing up in other parts of their historic range as well, like Ontario and Wisconsin.  Certainly a bird that is not yet out of danger, but at least is no longer at the brink of extinction.

I have made the trip to northern Michigan at least a half a dozen times in an attempt to photograph the Kirtland’s Warbler with limited success.  I could usually hear the bird singing and often catch a glimpse of one or two as they flitted among the branches, but getting a nice clean shot of one had always alluded me. Until this summer when I came across a bird that was feeding on insects along the edge of a stand of jack pine that happened to border the road I was searching from.  This particular bird gave me fifteen minutes with it which is an eternity with a warbler. I was finally able to get some of the images I had dreamt of on all of those previous trips.  It certainly is rewarding to not only be able to see such a rare and beautiful bird but to be able to make some images as well truly is, the icing on the cake.

Male Kirtland’s Warbler

Male Kirtland’s Warbler

Male Kirtland’s Warbler in Song on Jack Pine Cone