Wisconsin conservation biologists are eagerly awaiting the return of Kirtland’s warblers, hopefully including an Adams County bird that flew to fame in 2015 when researchers found it wintering 1,500 miles away in the Bahamas.
The bird has since returned to Adams County at least three times to nest and been a father twice over, adding to Wisconsin’s growing population of this endangered species and knowledge about the rare songbird’s habits and habitats.
“We’re looking forward to seeing if he comes back in 2019,” says Davin Lopez, the Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist leading DNR’s efforts.
“This bird has been doing exactly what we want him to do: return to his birthplace and have a family. He also has been an excellent scientific subject, showing the value of the information we can learn from banding and monitoring,” Lopez adds.
The bird hatched in 2014 in Adams County, and was one of six fledglings to have bands attached to their leg that year to help track if the young warblers would return to the breeding site in following years. The bird became known as ABPI, short for the color and order of the bands on his leg (Aluminum, Blue, Purple, Indigo).
Ashley Olah, the DNR nest monitor that summer, subsequently sighted the bird on Cat Island on April 6, 2015, in the Bahamas, where she was working as part of a Smithsonian Institute research team surveying for the rare songbird.
The discovery was the avian equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, and now, four years later, ABPI remains the first, and only Kirtland’s warbler to date that was banded in Wisconsin and sighted again in the Bahamas.
ABPI was not found in Wisconsin that summer, but returned to its Adams County birthplace in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and had successful nests of its own in 2017 and 2018, according to Sarah Warner, the biologist leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s banding and conservation efforts in Wisconsin.
“The life history data we have for ABPI is rare for most ornithological banding studies,” Warner says. “Without banding and other monitoring efforts in place for the Wisconsin program, we never would have known his wintering site, his longevity, and his strong site fidelity,” Warner says. “Site fidelity” means the bird returns to its birthplace.
Funding for the monitoring program was provided by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.
More good news for the Kirtland’s warbler
That ABPI returned to Wisconsin again in 2018 and successfully nested was just one piece of good news for Kirtland’s warblers, according to the recently released 2018 nesting season report on the FWS’s Wisconsin Kirtland’s warbler web page (exit DNR).
Wisconsin’s Kirtland’s warbler population has continued to increase and geographically expand in response to partners’ conservation efforts, growing from 11 birds and three nests documented in 2007 to 51 birds and 16 total nests in 2018.
In addition to monitoring and nest protection, partners have maintained and expanded the pine barrens habitat Kirtland’s warblers need. Pine barrens are a globally rare type of savanna that support many other rare or declining plant and animal species, including the state endangered sand violet and the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly.
The number of Kirtland’s warblers in Wisconsin doesn’t yet meet the criteria to be removed from the state’s endangered species list; however, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to announce this spring if the bird will be removed from the federal endangered and threatened species list. The species has met federal recovery goals following years of intensive habitat management, mostly in lower Michigan where the core population is found.
Please visit the Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation Team (exit DNR) website for more information.