Species Profile

Kirtland's Warbler

Scientific Name: Setophaga kirtlandii
Other/Previous Names: Dendroica kirtlandii
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2008
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This warbler is a globally endangered species that occurs in very small numbers in Ontario and possibly Quebec. It is a habitat specialist and extremely vulnerable to cowbird nest parasitism. Habitat management and cowbird control in Michigan, the core of its range, have resulted in population increases, which could provide a source of birds for Canada. However, the U.S. population is still small and the number of sightings in Canada has remained low and constant since 1990, so there is no evidence of rescue for the Canadian population.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Endangered in April 1979. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 1999, May 2000, and April 2008.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Kirtland's Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler Photo 1

Top

Description

Kirtland’s Warbler is a medium-sized songbird. Adult males have bluish-grey upperparts and a lemon yellow belly with black streaks on the flanks and sides. The cheeks are black and the eye ring is white. Females are similar to males but their plumage is duller with paler yellow underparts, more black streaks on the breast, and grey cheeks.   Like the prairie warbler, Kirtland’s Warbler displays a characteristic tail-bobbing behaviour; unlike the prairie warbler, Kirtland’s Warbler does not have a yellowish face. Kirtland’s Warbler is also similar to the magnolia warbler, but the magnolia warbler’s wing bars and tail marks are not as prominent and it does not bob its tail.

Top

Distribution and Population

Kirtland’s Warbler breeds in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario and possibly Quebec. The species has been reported from Minaki, Ontario, in the west, to Kazabazua, Quebec, in the east. The earliest records of Kirtland’s Warbler in Canada date back to 1900. Singing males in suitable breeding habitat have been recorded sporadically since the early 1900’s particularly in the Petawawa area. There are two confirmed breeding locations in Ontario, Canada. One is from 1945 near Barrie, Ontario, and then a small population has been successfully breeding at Garrison Petawawa from 2007 through 2015. Kirtland’s Warbler spends the winter in the Bahamas; it has also been sighted in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Dominican Republic. The current size of the Kirtland’s Warbler population in Canada is unknown. The largest number of singing males recorded at any one time from a specific area was the three recorded at CFB Petawawa in the summer of 2006. Two males and one female were recorded from the same location the following year. Given the availability of suitable habitat, the population is likely to be greater than three individuals, but it is probably fewer than ten. There is no information on population trends for Kirtland’s Warbler in Canada. Kirtland’s Warblers from Michigan could come to Canada to breed, since large distances and extensive areas of open water do not appear to create a barrier to dispersal. However, the population in the United States is still small and the number of sightings in Canada has remained constant since 1990, so there is no evidence of rescue for the Canadian population.

Top

Habitat

During the breeding season, Kirtland’s Warbler is restricted to young jack pine growing in dense stands with small openings. It prefers young jack pine to mature pines, which do not have branches near the ground. These stands may have regenerated after wildfire or timber harvest. Today, however, most Kirtland’s Warblers breed in jack pine plantations specifically managed for this bird species. The species is typically found in tracts of forest larger than 30 ha, and the percentage of nests with fledglings (i.e., breeding success) is highest in stands that are larger than 80 ha. Kirtland’s Warblers nest on the ground on well-drained, sandy soils where blueberries typically grow.   It is difficult to determine habitat trends for Kirtland’s Warbler because, unless specific management is undertaken, preferred habitat is constantly changing as stands mature. However, it appears likely that suitable habitat is not limited in Canada.

Top

Biology

Kirtland’s Warblers are generally monogamous. First breeding occurs at one year of age, and clutch size ranges from three to six eggs. Kirtland’s Warblers are unusual among birds of the parulid family in that they nest in loose colonies; the nests are constructed on the ground at the base of young jack pines, thus forming a sort of colony. In early fall, all individuals migrate from their breeding areas to the Bahamas, where they spend the winter. Kirtland’s Warblers feed on insects, such as spittlebugs, aphids and ants, and on blueberries. The average life expectancy of this migratory species is estimated at four years.

Top

Threats

One of the main factors limiting the population of the Kirtland’s Warbler is habitat loss resulting from fire suppression. At one time, the supply of extensive patches of young jack pine suitable for the species was renewed on an ongoing basis by fires caused by lightning. Today, fire suppression prevents the regeneration of young pine, thereby limiting Kirtland’s Warbler habitat.   In the past, habitat loss through permanent conversion of jack pine stands to agriculture or forestry reduced the amount of suitable habitat for this species. Fragmentation and isolation of jack pine stands may also have contributed to decreases in Kirtland’s Warbler populations. The species prefers larger patches of jack pine, and activities that fragment forest patches could cause the population to decrease.   Kirtland’s Warblers are particularly vulnerable to nest parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird; in some regions, cowbird parasitism has severely reduced breeding success. Female cowbirds remove one or more eggs from Kirtland’s Warbler nests and replace them with their own eggs, which are then incubated by the warblers. Cowbird eggs hatch before the warbler eggs, so the warbler chicks are trampled by the cowbird chicks. Any warblers that do hatch die of hunger because the cowbird nestlings, which are larger and more aggressive, out-compete the warbler nestlings for food.   Available wintering habitat could also be reduced by hurricanes in pine forest habitat in the non-breeding areas in the Bahama islands.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Kirtland's Warbler is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Kirtland’s Warbler is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, which prohibits harming birds, their nests or their eggs. In Point Pelee National Park of Canada, the species is also protected under the Canada National Parks Act.   At the provincial level, Kirtland’s Warbler is protected under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

Top

Recovery Team

Kirtland's Warbler Recovery Team

  • Ken Tuininga - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
    Phone: 416-739-5895  Fax: 416-739-4560  Send Email

Top

Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The Kirtland’s Warbler recovery team aims to determine whether there is a breeding population of Kirtland's Warbler in Canada and, if so, to undertake activities to maintain or increase the population. Surveys of potential Kirtland’s Warbler habitat are ongoing and although singing males are occasionally found in early succesional pine habitats in Ontario, no breeding has been confirmed.

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

11 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Kirtland's Warbler (2008-11-26)

    This warbler is a globally endangered species that occurs in very small numbers in Ontario and possibly Quebec. It is a habitat specialist and extremely vulnerable to cowbird nest parasitism. Habitat management and cowbird control in Michigan, the core of its range, have resulted in population increases, which could provide a source of birds for Canada. However, the U.S. population is still small and the number of sightings in Canada has remained low and constant since 1990, so there is no evidence of rescue for the Canadian population.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) in Canada (2006-10-25)

    The Kirtland’s Warbler was listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003. It is also a migratory bird protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species. Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy in cooperation with the Province of Ontario. All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and approved the strategy, which covers the five-year period from 2006 to 2011. This strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).

Action Plans

  • Action Plan for the Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) in Canada (2016-07-06)

    The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent Ministers for the recovery of the Kirtland’s Warbler and have prepared this action plan to implement the recovery strategy, as per section 47 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Department of National Defence.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 - 2008 (2008-08-28)

    2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Permits and Related Agreements

Residence Description

  • Residence Description - Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica Kirtlandii) in Canada (2007-01-02)

    Section 33 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibits damaging or destroying the residence of a listed threatened, endangered, or extirpated species. SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating” [s.2(1)]. Preface updated on May 17, 2017.
Date modified: