Kirtland’s Warbler

The Ontario Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Project

The Bird:

Kirtland's WarblerThe Kirtland’s Warbler is a globally rare bird, endangered in Ontario and Canada, that breeds only in young pine-oak communities in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario and overwinters in the Bahamas. Although always rare, the Kirtland’s Warbler was reduced to less than 500 individuals in the 1970-80’s due to a loss of suitable habitat. After 60 years of conservation programs in the United States, the population has increased to over 5,000. In the US, conservation projects helped to recover populations from 500 in the 1970s to over 5,000 individuals. Despite the success seen in the US, the Kirtland’s Warbler remains in jeopardy in Ontario, and it is the only through the active restoration of their specialized habitat that their populations can be recovered.

Their Habitat:

Kirtland’s Warblers have evolved a unique and nomadic adaptation to pine-oak community habitats found in the Great Lakes area, in particular the Oak Ridges Moraine. Kirtland’s Warblers, along with a number of other species-at-risk are dependent on these pine oak communities. Once common across throughout the Kirtland’s Warblers range, these unique communities were some of the first areas lost to European settlement. Many of the plants in these communities are adapted to fire, and need fire to reproduce. Burns that were once a semi-regular natural occurrence, harnessed by Indigenous people to sustainably manage fire-adapted ecosystems, were banned by Europeans as part of their effort to suppress Indigenous culture, compounded by their lack of understanding of the important role fire played in North American ecosystems. The Jack Pine is typically the main tree species typically associated with Kirtland’s Warblers, however in Ontario and Wisconsin, Kirtland’s Warblers are also using Red Pine. Kirtland’s Warblers require communities with these tree species that are between 6 to 20 years in age for breeding.

The Kirtland’s Warbler and the Oak Ridges Moraine:

Data from a tracking using MOTUS Wildlife Tracking System (a Birds Canada initiative) showed that Kirtland’s Warblers are moving through Ontario during their breeding season searching for suitable new breeding grounds for subsequent years. Pilot projects to create habitat for Kirtland’s Warbler in southern Ontario were started in 2017 in Simcoe County. In 2022, six male Kirtland’s Warblers established territories at the restoration site near the moraine. This is seen as an early success and “proof of concept” for this type of restoration initiative. This and other evidence suggest that Ontario is suitable for establishing more breeding populations of Kirtland’s Warbler if more habitat was available through restoration. This is particularly the case in the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt where there are areas with many suitable sand deposits.

Ontario Kirtland's Warbler If you build itThe Kirtland’s Warbler Habitat Restoration:

While the long-term goal requires a large area, much can be achieved in the short-term with smaller areas, especially if those smaller areas are linked to other conservation lands. Most conservation is focused on protecting existing areas, but in some cases, habitats need to be recreated. There is now ample evidence that most species return to restored areas provided the correct complement of plant species and habitat structure has been provided. Restoring these communities begins by reestablishing between 80 to 120 different native grass, forb and shrub species. This is the first step in restoring the complex characteristics of pine-oak communities and the soils that support them. Once the native plant community is established and soils improve, insects, birds, and other animals begin to return.

The Partners and Supporters:

Many of the areas with potential habitat features suitable for Kirtland’s Warblers occur within the Land Trust’s existing priority areas for land securement. The Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust has partnered with the bi-national group working together on the recovery of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler in Ontario which includes the following members and advisors: GEI Consultants LtdSir Sanford Fleming College, School of Environmental and Natural Resources SciencesAmerican Bird ConservancySimcoe County Forestry Division County of Simcoe and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, working in coordination with the U.S. Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation Team.

Check out some of the endorsements for this project!

Our donors, the MapleCross Fund were featured in this article, talking about the Kirtland’s Warbler project.

How can you help?

  1. We will need volunteers for the Ontario Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Project to help with restoration work and other project-related work. If you are interested, let us know! Please note that this work will not happen immediately, so it may take some time to hear from us. Please be patient. Sign up as a volunteer for the Ontario Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Project 
  2. Give a gift in support of the protection and restoration of Kirtland’s Warbler habitat in Ontario.

This project was undertaken with the financial support of:
Ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier de:

              Environment and Climate Change logo

                                               Province of Ontario logo

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