Species At Risk

Kirtland’s Warbler

(Setophaga kirtlandii)


Kirtland’s Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler occurrences map


Kirtland’s Warbler is a medium-sized songbird at approximately 15 centimetres in length. Males have yellow bellies with dark streaking along the flanks and sides. Their upperparts are blue-grey with dark streaks and they have black cheeks and white eye rings. Females and young look similar, but are not as boldly or brightly marked and have brownish highlights on the wings and back. Its song – an explosive series of sharp notes – can be heard over 400 metres away in good conditions!


Kirtland’s Warblers primarily breed in central Michigan and migrate to the Bahamas for winter. A few are seen annually at Point Pelee National Park and other migration hotspots in southwestern Ontario, and they have long been suspected of occasional nesting in Ontario, in pockets of suitable habitat. To date, breeding evidence has been acquired at only two sites, the most recent being in 2007 at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.


Kirtland’s Warblers have very specific habitat requirements, typically nesting in well-drained sandy soils covered in large forests of young jack pine, a habitat often created by fire. They lay their nests on the ground, hidden away under low living branches of young jack pines with a thick cover of understory plants, such as grasses, sweet-fern and blueberry. Mature pines that no longer have branches near the ground do not provide sufficient cover.


The main threat to Kirtland’s Warbler is the limited availability of suitable habitat. Forest fire prevention and suppression, and development over the past century have reduced the amount of suitable jack pine forest. Active management to maintain enough of this habitat is needed for this species to survive. Nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other bird’s nests at the expense of the host’s young, has also been identified as a threat.


Kirtland’s Warbler and its habitat are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. This species also receives protection under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Kirtland’s Warbler

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Kirtland’s Warbler. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find Kirtland’s Warbler on your property, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Did you know?

The breeding range of this warbler is one of the smallest of any North American bird. They nest almost exclusively in a small number of counties in central Michigan.

Did you know?

Fire plays a very important roll in maintaining the forest habitat of Kirtland’s Warbler. At first glance, it may appear that a fire has destroyed the forest, but it is the heat from the fire that is needed to open the hard jack pine cones and start the process all over again.

Did you know?

Kirtland’s Warbler is one of only a few warblers that have the distinctive habit of regularly pumping its tail up and down.

Did you know?

This species feeds on blueberries and on insects, such as spittlebugs, aphids and ants.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.