Endangered bird – and subject of recently published book – is beating the odds, according to new survey

by Brianne Johnson on November 1, 2012

Since the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced a population all-time high for the Kirtland’s warbler — the rarest warbler species in North America — one thing has been made clear, according to a DNR endangered species coordinator quoted in the DNR’s press release: “We are witnessing a conservation success story.” And that inspiring and amazing story is documented in The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It by William Rapai, which was recently published by the Press.

According to the DNR’s annual survey, the number of singing male Kirtland’s warblers spiked at 2,063 during the “official 2012 survey period;” almost double the count for 2011, and a drastic increase from the lowest recorded number of 167 in 1974. The majority were reported to have been found in 12 northern Michigan Lower Peninsula counties, seven Upper Peninsula counties, and 27 “additional singing males were observed outside Michigan in Wisconsin and Ontario.”

And the numbers don’t stop there. According to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Only males sing, so if you double the survey totals that means more than 4,100 Kirtland’s warblers are streaming northbound through Ohio in the spring, offering birders here the best chances ever to see one of these precious songbirds.” (The Kirtland’s warbler usually arrives in its Northern Michigan nesting grounds in May.)

At a time when the world is seeing its species rapidly go extinct, the Kirtland’s warbler is not just a survivor, it’s a rock star. The Kirtland’s warbler is the rarest warbler species in North America — and will always be rare because of its persnickety nesting preferences. When the total population fell below 400 birds in the 1970s and 1980s — driven largely by a loss of habitat and the introduction of a parasite — a small group of dedicated biologists, researchers, and volunteers vowed to save the Kirtland’s warbler despite long odds. In The Kirtland’s Warbler, William Rapai details the bird’s fascinating natural history and tells the story of the warbler’s survival and gradual recovery, the people and policies that kept it from extinction, and the ongoing political and environmental challenges that may again jeopardize the bird’s future.



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