At a time when the world is seeing its species rapidly go extinct, the Kirtland's warbler is not just a survivor, it's a rock star. The Kirtland's warbler is the rarest warbler species in North America and will always be rare because of its persnickety nesting preferences. But when the total population fell below 400 birds in the 1970s and 1980s—driven largely by a loss of habitat and the introduction of a parasite—a small group of dedicated biologists, researchers, and volunteers vowed to save the Kirtland's warbler despite long odds. This is the story of the warbler's survival and gradual recovery, the people and policies that kept it from extinction, and the ongoing challenges that may again jeopardize the bird's future.
In The Kirtland's Warbler, William Rapai explores the bird's fascinating natural history as well as the complex and evolving relationships between the warbler, its environment, its human protectors, and state and federal policies that today threaten to eradicate decades of work done on the species' behalf. Beginning with an account of the warbler's discovery in the mid-nineteenth century and ornithologists' desperate hunt for information on the elusive new species, the book goes on to examine the dramatic events that quickly led to the warbler's precarious status and its eventual emergence as a lightning rod for controversy.
The Kirtland's warbler is often described as a "bird of fire" for its preference for nesting in areas cleared by wildfire. But it also warrants the name for the passion it ignites in humans. Both tragic and uplifting, the story of this intriguing bird is a stirring example of how strong leadership, vision, commitment, sustained effort, and cooperation can come together to protect our natural world.
"I loved reading this book and found it a valuable and unique contribution to natural history literature. Besides exhaustively recounting the human and natural history of an extraordinary bird, Rapai has crafted a rare combination of easily accessible prose, scientific literacy, and human passion, together with the mystery and drama of endangered species management. The Kirtland's warbler is poised to join the peregrine falcon as globally significant examples of how scientific understanding, effective management policy, public-private partnerships, and citizen-science can be integrated to recover a species."
—John Fitzpatrick, Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
'Small, rare, and not often seen without a special effort, Kirtland's warbler has still managed to capture the imaginations of countless people. This story of its close brush with extinction and the struggle to pull it back from the brink reads like an adventure novel, except that it's all true. William Rapai has woven a fascinating and memorable account of the bird and of the many people who have worked to rescue it."
—Kenn Kaufman, Kaufman Field Guides
'The stories and tales surrounding this rare and mysterious species are almost as captivating as the bird itself. Who knew that Kirtland's warbler research involved such things as murder, a disastrous forest fire, and a machete accident? This is an excellent source of current research on the Kirtland's warbler, the successes of the current programs, and the perils and difficulties that still face the bird's population."
—Greg Miller, birder portrayed in The Big Year