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New World Warblers: Parulidae

Kirtland's Warbler (dendroica Kirtlandii): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: This bird reaches about 6 inches (15.3 centimeters) and 0.5 ounces (15 grams). It has a dark, bluish gray back and head, white eye ring, and a gray-specked, yellow throat and belly. Males are slightly more vividly colored than females, and have a blackish stripe on the face.

Geographic range: This bird summers in Michigan, and winters in the Bahamas.

Habitat: Its summertime home is primarily forests of jack pine trees, usually preferring forests with many young trees whose branches dip Kirtland's warbler is listed as Endangered by the IUCN and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It spends the summer in Michigan and the winter in the Bahamas. (Richard Baetson. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reproduced by permission.) close to the ground and provide cover for their ground nests.

Diet: Kirtland's warblers eat insects, and occasionally berries, or pine needles.

Behavior and reproduction: Although the warbler is quite rare, a birder who knows where to look can readily see them flying between pine trees and nabbing insects in midair. In late spring to early summer, Kirtland's warblers build small cup-shaped nests on the ground under low-lying pine branches. Broods typically number four or five eggs. The eggs hatch in about two weeks, and the young birds leave the nest about a week and a half later. One of greatest dangers to the birds comes not from direct predation, but from the wily brown-headed cowbird, which lays its eggs in the warbler's nest. The warbler cares for the cowbird young, often neglecting its own chicks.

Kirtland's warblers and people: People from around the world come to Michigan in the spring and summer to spot this bi-colored bird. Kirtland Community College, located in the breeding area, holds an annual festival in the bird's honor.

Conservation status: The need for the Kirtland's warbler to breed in young jack pine stands in northern Michigan has contributed to its low numbers. In response, efforts to improve its habitat have occurred, and the number of breeding pairs is increasing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently defines this species as endangered, but its ranking on the Red List has improved from Endangered in 1994 to Vulnerable in 2000. ∎


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Cassidy, James, ed. Book of North American Birds. New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1990.

Dock Jr., George. "Yellow-Breasted Chat." In Audubon's Birds of America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1979.

Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. The Birder's Handbook. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc. (Fireside Books), 1988.

Garrett, Kimball L., and John B. Dunning Jr. "Wood-Warblers." In The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, edited by Chris Elphick, John B. Dunning Jr., and David Allen Sibley. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

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Berger, Cynthia. "Exposed: Secret Lives of Warblers." National Wildlife 23 (2000): 46–52.

Lichtenstein, G., and S. G. Sealy. "Nestling Competition, Rather than Supernormal Stimulus, Explains the Success of Parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird Chicks in Yellow Warbler Nests." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 265, no. 1392 (2000): 249–254.

Price, T., H.L. Gibbs, L. de Sousa, and A. D. Richman. "Different Timing of the Adaptive Radiations of North American and Asian Warblers." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 265 (1998): 1969–1975.

Weidensaul, Scott. "Jewels in the Treetops." Country Journal 23 (1996): 58–61.

Web sites:

Endangered Species Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. http://endangered.fws.gov/ (accessed on May 5, 2004).

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species—Species information. http://www.redlist.org (accessed on May 29, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsNew World Warblers: Parulidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Yellow-breasted Chat (icteria Virens): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, NEW WORLD WARBLERS AND PEOPLE