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Satellite data shows that Kirtland's warblers prefer forests after fire
Date:12/7/2011

Kirtland's warblers are an endangered species of lightweight little birds with bright yellow-bellies that summer in North America and winter in the Bahamas. But be it their winter or their summer home, a new study using data from NASA-built Landsat satellites shows that these warblers like to live in young forests and often forests that have been on fire.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Kirtland's warblers as endangered in 1967 after a startling decline of over 50 percent in less than ten years. The little birds prefer to nest on the ground amidst large areas of relatively young jack pine trees, and these trees need fire to reproduce. When fires were dramatically suppressed in the 1960s across northern Michigan, Wisconsin and southern Ontario, the warbler's habitat became scarce.

After an intensive recovery program that focused both on combating invasive cowbirds and managing controlled forest burns, and thus creating warbler-friendly jack pine habitat, the Kirtland's warbler made an impressive comeback. By 1995 their numbers had tripled.

But those extensive efforts only occurred at the Kirtland's summer home, so a team of researchers reviewed the conditions of many a warbler's winter home the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. They did this by painstakingly putting together Landsat data to create cloud-free images of the isle's forest cover.

Tropical islands typically have cloud cover, so the team compiled many Landsat images with scenes where the clouds were in different places into one image of clear forest, said Eileen Helmer. She's a member of the Landsat Science Team for the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) and works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry.

The researchers did this not just once, but ten times, obtaining a record that spans a 30-year time period. According to Helmer, this allows them to tell how long it had been since the forest
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Contact: Aries Keck
Aries.C.Keck@NASA.gov
301-814-8858
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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