Kirtland's warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is one of the rarest songbirds in North America. I have never seen one. Today's the day.
This morning nine friends and I are embarking on a Michigan Audubon Kirtland's Warbler Tour to visit its breeding grounds near Grayling, Michigan.
The Kirtland's warbler is a habitat specialist, breeding only in young jack pine forests and almost exclusively in this area of Michigan. When the forest became fragmented and no longer burned to regenerate, the warblers' population crashed in the 1960's and early 70's. Listed as endangered, it recovered from a low of 400 individuals to an estimated 5,000 birds thanks to careful forest management and control of the brown-headed cowbird, a nest parasite.
Without human help the Kirtland's warbler would be extinct by now. The people of north central Michigan are understandably proud of their work to save the bird and happy to share their rare gem with visitors. There's a Kirtland's roadside marker in Grayling and a monument to the warbler in Mio. Read more about local efforts in this article from Michigan Live.
When not in Michigan, Kirtland's warblers winter in the Bahamas, then migrate north through Florida and Ohio. During migration solo birds are sometimes found in Ohio in early May. This one, photographed by Brian Wulker, was in Stubbs Park near Dayton on 6 May 2016.
I can tell you there are plenty of insects for birds to eat in north central Michigan's woods. The mosquitoes are frightful!!
UPDATE: yes we saw the Kirtland's warbler. It's amazing how loud his voice is, even when he sings with his back to us.
(all photos by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license; click on the images to see the original)