LANSING, Mich. (WJMN) – Starting January 1, drivers in Michigan can opt for a license plate with the Kirtland Warbler featured on it.

The license plate will cost $35 with $25 of the fee going toward the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund. The Michigan DNR chose the Kirtland Warbler because it was removed from the federal endangered species list in October 2019. Through stewardship by the Michigan DNR, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans, plans and partnerships with a network of nonprofit organizations and private citizens formed a conservation coalition that saved the warbler from extinction. There are now more than 4,000 Kirtland Warblers and the population is considered healthy.

The bird nests in young jack pine forests. 95% of the species is found in five counties in the northern Lower Peninsula though small populations can be found in the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario. In the winter, the warbler is mostly found in the Bahamas. Although the bird is no longer considered endangered, the Michigan Audubon says conservation must continue. Kirtland’s Warblers nest on the ground under the overlapping branches of young jack pine trees. The bird’s breeding habitat was historically created by wildfires that burned old trees and opened landscape for new young trees to grow. Due to more humans living near jack pine habitat, fires are extinguished. The population declined until the 1980s, when humans began harvesting and replanting trees.

“The accomplishment of this species qualifying for removal from the endangered species list is a testament to the efficacy and power of ecology-driven conservation,” said Michigan Audubon Executive Director Heather Good. 

The wildlife habitat license plate has raised over $3.9 million since it began in 2006.