Where to see a Rare Kirtland's Warbler in Florida

L. Cane

It's easy to see why bird watchers and nature enthusiasts enjoy looking for or sighting the Kirtland's warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii.) Their yellow and black coloring makes them arguably stunning. Until very recently, they were federally endangered. And they aren't found in large numbers in Florida because of unique habit needs.

The Unique Habitat of the Kirtland's Warbler: One challenge for the warbler is its very specific habitat requirement. The bird constructs its nest in sandy areas full of jack pine forests, which means it needs a large area to call home. Complicating matters, these types of dense jack pine trees are created via controlled burning, usually using the slash and burn technique.

How Many Kirtland's Warblers are There? Are They Endangered?: The warblers were listed as endangered for 47 years, but were taken off the list in 2019. There are thought to be around 2,300 pairs in existence today.

Even with their growing numbers, some are concerned about keeping the bird population healthy. The birds arguably still need forest management in the jack pine habitat to be able to nest.

Why Kirtland's Warbler Sightings are Somewhat Limited in Florida: Since the birds generally nest in Michigan and winter in the Bahamas, one's ability to see them in Florida is limited. However, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are five Florida counties where they can be found: Collier, Dade, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie.

Where are the Best Places to see Kirtland's Warblers in Florida?: According to Birds & Blooms, Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys is a warbler hotspot. Apparently, the birds love to drink from a water feature inside the fort.

There are also accounts of seeing warblers outside of the five counties mentioned by the FFWC. According to Florida Birding Trail, warblers have been found in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

And there is a YouTube video of a Kirtland's Warbler taken in Richardson's Park in Broward County. Here is that video. (Note that you can hear the video-taker admonish someone to "not do that." The video-taker is referring to "pishing," which is attracting birds with sound. Bird watchers sometimes use this technique to lure a bird closer. The practice is sometimes frowned-upon because it may disturb the birds or keep them from more important activities.)

One might also try the Great Florida Birding Trail, a collection of more than 500 Florida locations. You can check the Trail's website for the many southern sections in Collier, Dade, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties.

Even if you aren't in south Florida, you may want to check the Trial's website to see which birds you can see at a location near you.

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