A handsome little devil now off the endangered species list

The Kirkland's Warbler.

The Kirkland's Warbler.

A BIRD that spends half its year in The Bahamas is about to come off the endangered species list.

The Kirtland's Warbler has been considered endangered since 1967, and spends half the year in northern Michigan, and half the year in its preferred Bahamian home of Eleuthera.

Campaigners in Michigan have been encouraged by the bird's progress - nesting in the pine barrens of the northern part of the state - but it is not out of the woods yet. There are even calls to make the bird the new state bird, replacing the robin.

Bill Rapai, of the Kirtland's Warbler Alliance, warned that the bird falls into the category of "conservation-reliant species".

In other words, it needs a continued help from humans monitoring the ground-nesting warblers.

It helps, Rapai says, that the bird is "a handsome little devil".

The more colourful male is six inches long, with a bright yellow breast and a bluish-gray back. "When he sings," Rapai said, "he throws his head up. You can see his throat and chest just pulsing."

In late September or early October, the warblers relocate to The Bahamas, making the 1,500-mile trip in as little as eight days. Then by May, they head back north.

"We don't really know" why they choose The Bahamas, says David Ewert, director of the Kirtland's Warbler Programme for the American Bird Conservancy.

Mostly, he says, they prefer the island of Eleuthera, with its pine forest and dense shrubbery. Given the possibility of frost in the Carolinas and Florida, "it might be the nearest spot where they can find a predictable supply of insects".

The Kirtland's warbler wasn't discovered in the United States until 1851. Six years later, a naturalist at the Smithsonian Institution named the bird for Jared Kirtland, the Ohio doctor who presented that first specimen to the museum.

By the 1940s, researchers realized the population was faltering, and a survey in 1951 counted only 432 males singing their distinctive song. Figuring that warblers come in twosomes, they estimated a total of about 1,000. As recently as 1987, the number of pairs was 167.

The last tally was about 2,400 of them, enough to prompt the US Fish & Wildlife Service to begin the process of delisting. The warbler's friends had hoped to see the announcement in June. The forecast now is for late July, or even August - just before the bird heads back to The Bahamas for the winter.


licks2 4 years, 11 months ago

I grew up calling that bird "yellow Brest chimmy or Banana Bird". . .there were the "dank gray" verity of chimmy and the yellow Brest/Banana Bird kind!!

Sign in to comment