Photo by Ryan Brady

Kirtland’s Warbler Census 2021
The Kirtland’s Warbler Census was held in June 2021 and the results estimated that there are 2,245 pairs of KIWA’s, which is more than double the 1,000-pair recovery goal for the species – which has been exceeded over each of the past 20 years. The census was conducted by staff members from the Michigan DNR, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, American Bird Conservancy, Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance and many other volunteers. Groups from these organizations surveyed nesting areas, listening for singing males. Each male found is presumed to have a mate, so the number of males also approximates the number of pairs.

In 2017 and 2019, partial surveys were completed. This year’s thorough census was the first full count of Kirtland’s warbler since 2015, when 2,365 singing males were counted. The count is believed to be our best estimate of adult males of the global population of this highly localized bird species.

More specifically, 1,114 singing males were located on the Huron National Forest, while 994 singing males were found on lands managed by the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Across the Upper Peninsula, a record number of 67 singing males were found, including 42 on the Hiawatha National Forest and 25 on state forest lands, with 22 of those situated within recovering jack pine forests burned in the 21,069-acre Duck Lake Fire of 2012.

In addition to the birds found in Michigan, surveyors detected 39 singing males in Wisconsin, largely in central Adams County. This is an all-time high for Wisconsin, which has seen ever-increasing numbers since first being detected in 2008. Also, surveyors in Ontario detected 22 singing males, also representing an all-time high there since surveys began.

Kirtland’s warbler surveys have been conducted in Michigan since 1951. The species was among the first animals included when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. Populations sunk to a low of 167 pairs in 1974 and 1987 before mounting a gradual recovery. Aiding greatly in that return were cooperative efforts between state and federal agencies, along with conservation groups, to conserve and expand suitable jack pine habitat and control brown-headed cowbirds.

By 2001, the number of Kirtland’s warbler pairs in Michigan had surpassed 1,000, while the places the birds were located expanded to include the U.P., Ontario and Wisconsin. The birds migrate to and overwinter in The Bahamas.

The Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 and is now the guiding management strategy for the species. Additionally, funding and other commitments to habitat management and cowbird control are in place to ensure continued conservation actions in the absence of Endangered Species Act protections.

Since December 2017, Michigan’s wildlife habitat license plate has featured an elk to mark the 2018 celebration of 100 years of elk in our state. Beginning in January, the next species to adorn the plate is the Kirtland’s warbler – to celebrate the recovery of this unique bird!

All proceeds from the sale of the wildlife habitat license plate will continue to support the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund and benefit nongame species like the warbler. The loon was the first species featured on the license plate in 2006. Since then, the wildlife habitat license plate has raised over $3.9 million for the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund. Purchase the wildlife habitat license plate through the Secretary of State for $35, with $25 of that fee going to the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund.

Save the dates. The Kirtland’s Warbler Weekend is back June 3-4, 2022, in beautiful downtown Roscommon, Michigan!

The weekend starts with the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival Home Opener on Friday June 3rd from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the Marguerite Gahagan Nature Preserve, 209 W. Maplehurst Dr., Roscommon, MI 48653. Enjoy a social evening, including a nature hike, social time with beer and wine tasting, and appetizers as Kirtland’s Warbler Weekend kicks off. Our keynote speaker will be Joyanne Mittig from American Bird Conservancy, presenting Forestry for Michigan Birds.

On Saturday June 4th from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM is the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival at the CRAF Center, 606 Lake Street, Roscommon, Michigan. The Kirtland’s Warbler Festival is an educational celebration of the Kirtland’s Warbler, its habitat, and the communities located in the jack pine ecosystem. Experience Northern Michigan through a variety of activities, including kids’ tent, jack pine tours, nature presentations, featured artist Kim Diment, featured author Bill Rapai, live animals, and much more! Presentations include Kirtland’s Warbler videos with an introduction by Bill Rapai, Dispatches from Paradise: Observing Avian Migration at Whitefish Point by Alison Világ, and Michigan Frogs by Sight and Sound by Jim McGrath.

For more information and updates about these events, visit the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival Facebook , or email at