Kirtland's warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) recovery strategy

Official title: Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy DECLARATION

Recovery Strategy Series

Recovery Strategy for the Kirtland’s Warbler

(Dendroica kirtlandii) in Canada

Dendroica kirtlandii

October 2006

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)? 

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada . SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.” 

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA ( ) outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more 

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry ( ) and the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat  ( ) .

for the Kirtland’s Warbler

(Dendroica kirtlandii) in Canada

October 2006


Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2006. Recovery Strategy for the Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vi + 23 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry ( ).

Cover illustration:L.A.Messick courtesy of USDA Forest Service

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Programme de rétablissement de la Paruline de Kirtland (Dendroica kirtlandii)au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2006. All rights reserved.

ISBN 0-662-44249-0

Cat. no. En3-4/7-2006E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Kirtland’s Warbler. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Kirtland’s Warbler, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This recovery strategy also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizationsthat may be involved in recovering the species.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation and recovery of the species. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Kirtland’s Warbler and Canadian society as a whole.


Environment Canada – Ontario Region

Parks Canada Agency

Government of Ontario 


H.J. Bickerton, Biologist, Ottawa, Ontario

K. Tuininga, Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario Region

D. Coulson, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Pembroke

P. Aird, Faculty of Forestry and Centre for Environment, University of Toronto


Special thanks to Madeline Austen, Heather Dewar, Paul Aird, Irene Bowman, and Rick Pratt for developing the draft National Recovery Plan for Kirtland’s Warbler, January 20, 2000 on which this recovery strategy was based. The following people provided valuable information on the ecology and conservation of the Kirtland’s Warbler as well as useful comments on earlier drafts of this recovery strategy: Robin Bloom, Mike Cadman, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Casselman, Andre Dupont, Phil Huber, Burke Korol, Jan McDonnell, Chris Risley, Steve Sjogren, Don Sutherland and several anonymous reviewers. hanks are extended to Paul Aird and Mike Petrucha for providing occurrence data. Thanks also to the US Department of Agriculture, Forestry Service for the cover drawing and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division for providing the breeding season distribution map. Christine Vance prepared the Canadian distribution evidence map.  Thanks also to Canadian Wildlife Service, Habitat Conservation Section for their advice and Canadian Wildlife Service, Recovery Section for their advice and efforts in preparing this document for posting.


A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Kirtland’s Warbler. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects.


SARA defines residence as: a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or

hibernating [Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry:


The Kirtland’s Warbler was listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003.   It is also a migratory bird protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species. Canadian Wildlife Service – Ontario Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy in cooperation with the Province of Ontario. All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and approved the strategy, which covers the five-year period from 2006 to 2011. This strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).


The Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) is designated as Endangered in Canada (COSEWIC 2000). Its global breeding range is confined to the state of Michigan, although a breeding pair was recorded near Barrie, Ontario, in 1945. Since then, nesting has not been confirmed in Canada, although singing males have been observed in suitable habitat during the breeding season. The Michigan population has recently expanded, birds are now also nesting in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and singing males have been located within 25 km of the Canadian border near Sault Ste. Marie, so it is possible that breeding pairs may be detected in Canada in the future.

Kirtland’s Warblers are habitat specialists. They prefer extensive tracts of early successional, densely stocked jack pine (Pinus banksiana). The main threats to Kirtland’s Warbler survival include fire suppression and vegetative succession, insufficient suitable habitat, and brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater).

The recovery of a viable population of Kirtland’s Warblers in Canada is considered feasible.

Recovery goals are:

a)     to determine if a breeding population exists in Canada; and

b)     to manage habitat at selected locations in Canada to encourage recovery of the species.

Numerical population targets will be identified once Kirtland’s Warbler reestablishment has occurred.

Between 2006 and 2011, recovery objectives are to complete surveys to detect the presence of an existing population, increase communication and stakeholder support, and manage habitat for Kirtland’s Warbler conservation. Two additional objectives are outlined if breeding is confirmed. These include identifying and protecting critical habitat and conducting an annual census. A number of recovery activities are outlined to fulfil these objectives, and criteria to evaluate recovery efforts and overall success are defined. Recovery actions that have already been undertaken mainly include survey work, although little surveying has been done in relation to the amount of potential habitat in Canada.

Because there has been no recent evidence of breeding documented in Canada, quantitative recovery goals cannot be set and critical habitat cannot be identified at this time. This strategy contains a brief description of habitat requirements for Kirtland’s Warblers (based on research in Michigan) and a schedule of studies to help identify their critical habitat in Canada.

An action plan for the Kirtland’s Warbler will be completed by November 2010. Critical habitat will be identified following confirmation of a breeding population in Canada, but this may not be possible by 2010.

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