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Kirtland’s comeback: Endangered species nesting in state

When the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last year the discovery of a new breeding population of Kirtland’s Warblers in the state, it was nothing short of exciting for bird-lovers and nature enthusiasts everywhere.

UW-Green Bay graduate assistant Jennifer Goyette was a part of the team that helped make the discovery within the last year.

Goyette, working with both the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, spent countless hours in Adams County, Wis., jack pine forests monitoring and documenting the breeding of the small, colorful songbird, said to be one of the rarest in the world.

She found eight males, five females and five Kirtland’s Warbler nests.

“Two nests were successful and fledged five Kirtland’s Warblers each,” she said. “It was really exciting to have the nests fledge and know 100 percent that there are actually Kirtland’s Warblers breeding in Wisconsin.”

Until the discovery, the only known breeding populations of Kirtland’s Warblers were in Michigan.

The species, which winters in the Bahamas, appears to be expanding its range and could be on the way to recovery. In the early 1970s, scientists believed only 400 birds remained. Today, the total number is believed to be around 4,000, with more than 90 percent of the population inhabiting managed forests in Michigan.

“We will continue to try to track the status of this species in Wisconsin and employ additional protective efforts to encourage it to become established as a nesting member of the fauna of Wisconsin, and to add to its security for long-term health of the species,” said UW-Green Bay alumnus Joel Trick, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In a report, Trick praised Goyette’s fieldwork.

“Hiring Jennifer proved to be one of the best decisions we made all year, as she demonstrated exceptional skill in documenting home territories, finding nests and determining their outcomes,” Trick wrote.

UW-Green Bay is a leading institution when it comes to bird research.

It is home to the Richter Museum of Natural History, which contains one of Wisconsin’s most significant collections of animal specimens for scientific research and education. It has specimens of all of the locally breeding bird species, and the museum’s oological (bird egg) collection ranks among the 10 largest in North America.

Faculty and staff members also play important roles with the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the state’s “premiere birding organization.” The University maintains the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas for the WSO.

Video Transcript

Jennifer Goyette
UW-Green Bay Graduate Assistant

I studied an endangered species called the Kirtland’s Warbler. Its only known nesting habitat is the state of Michigan.

The species was discovered in the late 1800s, but the nesting territory wasn’t found until 50 years later. And they winter exclusively in the Bahamas.

In 2007, a nesting population was found in Adams County, Wisconsin. Three nests were found. As a result of that, the (Wisconsin) DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together this past year to assess whether or not they were in fact breeding in the state and determine what type of management action should occur.

I was the monitor. And I was on site to assess their breeding.

Joel Trick
Wildlife Biologist, US. Fish and Wildlife Service

We hired Jennifer through the Wisconsin DNR to assist us in documenting the nesting activities of Kirtland’s Warblers in Wisconsin and determine whether or not they were successfully nesting.

They’re very cryptic and shy and elusive, and it’s difficult to really determine when and where they’re nesting and what kind of success they have. And Jennifer assisted us greatly and was able to be present on the site for long periods of time, through the nesting season, and found out that birds actually were nesting and were successful.

Jennifer Goyette
This breeding season we were able to establish eight males on the site in Adams County, Wisconsin. We found five females and we found five nests. Of those five nests, two nests were successful and fledged five Kirtland’s Warblers each. It was really exciting to have the nests fledge and know 100 percent that there are actually Kirtland’s Warblers breeding in Wisconsin.

Joel Trick
It is significant in that it represents pioneering of a new nesting area, which could conceivably add to its security from extinction.

We will continue to try to track the status of this species in Wisconsin and employ additional protective efforts to encourage it to become established as a nesting member of the fauna of Wisconsin, and to add to its security for long-term health of the species.

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