The Kirtland’s Warbler: Designing conservation programs for the Bahamas archipelago wintering grounds

Presented by David Ewert

David Ewert, Joseph Wunderle, Dave Currie, Jennifer White, Genie Fleming, Eric Carey, and Scott Johnson

The Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), one of North America’s rarest Neotropical-Nearctic migrants, breeds almost exclusively in Michigan and winters almost exclusively in the Bahamas archipelago. Since 2002, the Kirtland’s Warbler Research and Training Project has determined, through focal bird and vegetation surveys, that wintering Kirtland’s warblers (KW) primarily use early succession coppice, particularly those areas with relatively high food abundance, including fruit of wild sage (Lantana involucrata), black torch (Erithalis fruticosa) and snowberry (Chiococca alba and C. parvifolia). KWs seem to be most abundant in the central Bahamas, and perhaps especially Eleuthera, Cat Island, San Salvador, and Long Island, based on recent surveys using playback of KW song and calls. Our challenge is applying this knowledge to implement practical land management practices that will ensure at least 4,000 KWs can be sustained during the winter. To help ensure long-term availability of favorable habitat for KWs, and associated species, such as the Bahama yellowthroat (Geothlypis rostrata), we are working to (1) increase awareness of the KW, especially on those islands with relatively large numbers of KWs, through collaborative work with the Bahamas National Trust, International Program of the U.S. Forest Service, and National Audubon Society, (2) evaluate the potential of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation rights-of-way management to create KW habitat, (3) evaluate the potential of resorts and private interests to create KW habitat, and (4) determine how sustainable agriculture, including goat farming, can create or maintain KW habitat. Our future work will focus on determining how to feasibly maintain suitable early succession habitat for KWs long-term, especially habitat used in late winter when resources are relatively scarce.

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