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For this edition of my What’s This? nature challenge, I offer no mere portion of a photo, nothing abstract as your only clue. Instead, here’s an entire bird, which I photographed in Ontario, Canada, on May 12, 2005. Name it and be eligible to win $5 off any of my outings or workshops. Enter in the comments section below. I’ll select a winner at random in a day or two.

By the way, spring migration, at least here in the northern states, now shifts into overdrive. Birds are dropping in everywhere. Please go find them.

Added May 16, 2016:

As many of you noted, this is one of the rarest nesting songbirds in North America: Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirlandii). From among the 17 correct answers, our winner (chosen at random) is Patrick Sands. As promised, Patrick gets not fame, not fortune, but a whole $5 off any of my outings or workshops. (Sooner or later, one of my 30 winners will actually cash in on this.)

Our honorable mention, in the Creative But Incorrect category, goes (as is often the case) to author, poet and educator Sara Backer, who writes: “This is a titmouse dressed up as a goldfinch for Halloween.”

This warbler got its name at the scene of a shooting. On May 13, 1851, near Cleveland, Ohio, Charles Pease shot a tiny songbird on the farm of his father-in-law, Jared P. Kirtland (1793-1877). Kirtland was no ordinary farmer. A naturalist and politician who also studied mollusks, Kirtland had the distinction of being chosen also as the namesake for two snakes (he was a politician, after all): Kirtland’s snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) and Forest vine snake (Thelotornis kirtlandii)The deceased warbler went on to be described as a species by the famed Spencer Baird in 1852.

Back in the 1970s, when I started birding, Kirtland’s Warbler was a bird on the brink. Its population has declined to an estimated 400 birds, perilously low for a songbird. The trouble began with the warbler’s limited and specialized breeding grounds — dense stands of Jack Pine located for the most part in the north-central portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Fragmentation of that habitat, along with fire suppression, which limited the natural fire-dependent regeneration of the pines, amounted to the first two of a one-two-three punch threatening this songbird. The knockout would have been nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Declared a federally endangered species in 1967, Kirtland’s Warbler offers us an example of the Endangered Species Act at its best. A recovery plan included: better management of the warbler’s Jack Pine stands, cowbird control, annual monitoring, research, and education. By 2012, the Kirtland’s Warbler population had risen ten-fold to about 4,000 individuals, and the species is now considered secure, although dependent on continued management.

Those kinds of number also mean that we’re now finding Kirtland’s Warblers more often in migration, most often in mid May. Rather than shooting it on a farm near Cleveland, I shot this particular Kirtland’s at Pt. Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario. Here’s another image:



Bocetti, Carol I., Deahn M. Donner and Harold F. Mayfield. 2014. Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

  1. Sara Backer says:

    This is a titmouse dressed up as a goldfinch for Halloween.

  2. charlie Hewson says:

    Kirtlands warbler

  3. Cheryl Miller says:

    It’s a Kirtland’s Warbler

  4. Will taber says:

    Kirtlands warbler

  5. Patrick Sands says:

    Kirtland’s Warbler. Hi Brian 🙂

  6. J. Walsh says:

    Kirtland’s warbler


    Kirtlands Warbler

  8. Peter says:

    Kirtland’s Warbler (ad female?)

  9. Karen Starr says:

    Female Kirtland’s

  10. Evergreen Erb says:

    Kirtland’s Warbler

  11. Mark Rahill says:

    Kirtlands Warbler ?

  12. raharlow2013 says:

    Kirkland’s Warbler, female

  13. Diane Kreager says:

    I think the bird is a Kirtland Warbler

  14. Sue Carr says:

    Kirtland’s warbler

  15. Morgan Perlman says:

    Kirtland’s warbler!

  16. Reg Welch says:

    Kirkland’s warbler

  17. Zac Cota says:

    Looks like a KIWA! Boy would I love to see one.

  18. Linda Gionti says:

    Kirtland’s Warbler

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