Endangered Warbler Brings Traditional Foes Together


It’s enough to make a spotted owl green with envy: The timber industry, environmentalists and government regulators are working together to try to save an endangered bird called the Kirtland’s warbler.

The same groups that have been at each other’s throats over the habitat of the spotted owl have united to try to save the half-ounce, yellow-breasted warbler, also threatened by a shrinking habitat.

The endangered owl dwells in the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests, where a 3-year-old logging ban cost thousands of jobs.


By contrast, the warbler lives near young trees, nesting in the thick underbrush beneath stands of jack pines just 5 to 15 years old.

The pines start dying when they reach 16 to 20 feet, but by that time, they’ve choked the undergrowth.

As of last year, fewer than 1,000 of the warblers were known to exist--all within an eight-county area of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

“The reason the Endangered Species Act is working in Michigan is one simple word--partnerships,” said Charles Wooley, Kirtland’s project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Biologist Rex Ennis of the U.S. Forest Service was among several dozen biologists and volunteers who fanned out in early June for the last day of the annual Kirtland’s census.

Cupping an ear, he strained to hear the warbler’s melodious chirp. Hearing one, he noted the warbler’s approximate location on a map, then resumed his trek.


Annual counts of the bird began in 1971, when a 10-year census showed a sharp drop in their numbers. In 1974, only 167 males were counted.

The 1993 census found 485 males, up 22% from the previous year. This year’s figures are being tabulated.