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Sustaining Forests

Managing Species of Conservation Concern: Kirtland’s Warbler under Changing Environmental and Management Conditions

Research Issue

[photo:] Young male Kirtland’s warbler.  Photo by Kyle Sommers, US Forest Service Hiawatha National Forest intern.The Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is an endangered migratory songbird that breeds primarily in Michigan and winters in the Bahamian Archipelago. The species is an extreme habitat specialist on the breeding grounds, showing a strong preference for large, dense patches of young jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and well-drained sandy soils. Due to intensive collaborative management, the species has recovered from ca. 200 breeding males in 1971 to ca. 2,000 breeding males today. With the potential for delisting, continued conservation and management requires more information on how changing environmental conditions in both the breeding and wintering groundscould impact the long-term viability of the species.

Our Research

We developed a full annual cycle model to investigate impacts of potential management and environmental changes on the long-term population viability of Kirtland’s Warbler.  Scenarios included changes in production of breeding habitat and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) control, and impacts of climate change on breeding and wintering grounds habitat quality and quantity.  Our results indicated that moderate reductions in breeding habitat suitability did not threaten the persistence of the species, but reduced Brown-headed Cowbird control had substantial negative impacts on abundance. Continuing research efforts are investigating the impacts of changing environments on winter habitat availability due to sea-level rise, and on growth of jack pine within breeding habitat; both aspects may impact future distribution and population levels of Kirtland’s Warblers.   

Expected Outcomes

Our research assists managers and policymakers with conservation and restoration decisions by incorporating range-wide habitat considerations, especially for long distant migrants such as the Kirtland’s Warbler.  This information is necessary to ensure population stability during rapidly changing conditions.

Research Results

Brown, Donald J.; Ribic, Christine A.; Donner, Deahn M.; Nelson, Mark D.; Bocetti, Carol I.; Deloria-Sheffield, Christie M.; Thompson, Des. 2016. Using a full annual cycle model to evaluate long-term population viability of the conservation-reliant Kirtland's warbler after successful recovery. Journal of Applied Ecology. [11 p.].


Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Deahn M. Donner, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station - Landscape Ecologist

Research Partners

  • Donald J. Brown, School of Natural Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
  • Christine. A. Ribic, US Geological Survey, Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
  • Carol I. Bocetti, Biological and Environmental Science Department, California University of Pennsylvania, California, Pennsylvania
  • Christie M. Deloria-Sheffeld, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marquette, Michigan

Last Modified: November 22, 2016