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Meet the Kirtland's warbler, potentially your new state bird

A Kirtland's Warbler perched in a jack pine tree.
Vince Cavalieri
A Kirtland's Warbler perched in a jack pine tree. (Photo: Vince Cavalieri/USFWS)

Michigan is not alone in having the American robin as its state bird — Wisconsin and Connecticut have adopted it as well.

But a bill under consideration in Lansing would make the Kirtland's warbler the new official state bird.

Click here to listen to the story from IPR's Patrick Shea, which was heard nationwide on NPR's Morning Edition.

"Michigan really should have a state bird that is as unique as our state itself," said Bill Rapai, executive director of the Kirtland's Warbler Alliance.

The warbler spends winters in the Bahamas (who wouldn't, if given the option?) and the rest of the year almost exclusively in northern Michigan, nesting on the ground near young jack pine trees.

The jack pine relies on fire to reproduce — it melts the resin that holds pine cones together. So when people started suppressing fires, the habitat changed and the warbler declined.

The species was almost extinct in the 1980s.

"A lot of people put a lot of effort into this, to bring this beautiful bird back," said state Rep. Greg Markkanen, who introduced a bill to make the Kirtland's warbler the official state bird. "It's a unique Michigan success story, and people need to know about it."

There's been some pushback, which has surprised Markkanen, R-Hancock.

"I'm not dissing the robin at all," he said.

But he argues the Kirtland's warbler is a more original choice — and the story of its recovery is something the state should be proud to claim.