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Kirtland's Warbler
Setophaga kirtlandii
Order
PASSERIFORMES
– Family
PARULIDAE
Authors: Mayfield, Harold F.

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Introduction

Adult male Kirtland's Warbler; Michigan, June
Figure 1. Breeding and non-breeding (winter) ranges of the Kirtland’s Warbler.

Editor’s Note: Phylogenetic analyses of sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA indicate that all species formerly placed in Dendroica, one species formerly placed in Wilsonia (citrina), and two species formerly placed in Parula (americana and pitiayumi) form a clade with the single species traditionally placed in Setophaga (ruticilla). The generic name Setophaga has priority for this clade. See the 52nd Supplement to the AOU Checklist of North American Birds for details. Future revisions of this account will reflect these changes.

Rarity is the hallmark of the Kirtland’s Warbler. It has always been regarded as one of America’s rarest songbirds since its discovery on 13 May 1851 when a migrating male was taken on the farm of Jared P. Kirtland near Cleveland, Ohio. Rare in absolute numbers, it is difficult to find in its breeding range, on its wintering grounds, and in migration between the two. Formally described by Spencer F. Baird (1852), another half century passed before its nesting ground was discovered in northern Lower Michigan in 1903. In the meantime, five more specimens were taken in migration in Ohio and Michigan, and at least 71 in the Bahama Islands in winter, establishing these islands as the winter home. Its rarity is a consequence of its small and specialized breeding habitat—young jack pine (Pinus banksiana) forests—and perhaps its narrow requirements on its nonbreeding grounds. In addition, brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) severely reduced its breeding success in this century until recent control efforts reduced cowbird numbers on the nesting grounds. This is a well studied warbler; Huber (1982) cites 800 published works on the species, Stone (1986) 300 listings and maps.