Birding in Michigan isn’t just for spring and summer. Some of the state’s coolest birds only show up in the cold months.
In the fall, birds from Canada stop in Michigan during their migration south. According to the Department of Natural Resources, hundreds of species refuel at the Great Lakes and surrounding wetlands. While many continue on to warmer locations, others stop and stick around for the winter.
Some of the birds you can spot during this time of year in Michigan include:
- Red crossbill
- Evening grosbeak
- Bohemian waxwings
- Boreal owl
- Northern hawk owl
- Northern saw-whet owl
- Great gray owl
- Snowy owl
- Peregrine falcon
- Dark-eyed junco
- Snow bunting
- Horned lark
- Pine siskin
- Sandhill crane
- Bald eagle
Here are some of the best places in the Upper and Lower peninsulas to catch a glimpse of these diverse and compelling winged creatures.
Superior Birding trail
The Superior Birding Trail covers 150 miles of the eastern UP around Lake Superior. Various ecosystems and outdoor destinations sit along the trail, including Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of bald eagles and other raptors fly over Whitefish Point every year, as do many owls—including the extremely adorable northern saw-whet). If you want to witness the nocturnal birds of prey, try camping out at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park (you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights).
North Huron Birding Trail
Located along the northern shore of Lake Huron, the North Huron Birding Trail has five different birding zones: St. Ignace, Les Cheneauz, DeTour, Drummond Island, and Pickford Grassland. Because there are so many protected bays and types of plant life, this area houses one of the most diverse collections of bird species in the entire Midwest. It’s one of the best places to see the majestic northern hawk owl.
Beaver Island Birding Trail
Although these next two are technically in between peninsulas, they’re still in the northern part of the state. Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan and is accessible via ferry or plane from Charlevoix. There are more than 30 excellent birding sites on the island, including the Gull Harbor Natural Area and Barney’s Lake Preserve. In the winter, you’ll see snowy owls, horned larks, snow buntings, and other northern birds—and the lack of light pollution makes for spectacular nighttime viewing.
Straits of Mackinac
In the spring and fall, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch crew members camp out on the north side of the famous Mackinac Bridge to study the eagles, falcons, and hawks passing by overhead. Every fall, they count raptors each day from Aug. 20 to Nov. 10, and you’re welcome to join in the fun.
Detroit might not come to mind when you think of ideal birding spots, but in the fall, migrating birds follow the Detroit River corridor daily. Head to the shoreline and you’ll see a range of ducks, hawks, and songbirds flying overhead or taking a break in the chilly water.
Sleeping Bear Birding Trail
The Sleeping Bear Birding Trail covers four counties and thousands of acres along Lake Michigan’s shorelines, giving birders ample opportunity to view their favorite species each fall and winter. Although you might see an owl or two if you’re lucky, you’ll mainly see waterfowl like tundra swans, snow geese, and northern pintails.
Saginaw Bay Birding Trail
The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail covers 142 miles of the Saginaw Bay shoreline—from Port Crescent State Park in the east to Taward State Park in the west. Birders can see more than 200 species of birds there year-round, but bald eagles and snowy owls make their presence known in the fall.
Muskegon Wastewater Facility
The Muskegon Wastewater Facility has large tracts of open land adjacent to the State Game Area, which draws birds to the treatment plant. According to Muskegon County, birders are welcome to come and watch at the facility as long as they obtain a pass at the wastewater system office beforehand. Get excited, because the rarest bird ever documented in Michigan (a white wagtail) was spotted here.
Waterloo State Recreation Area
The 3,000 acres of protected wetlands in the Waterloo Recreation Area make it a very important nesting place for sandhill cranes. You’ll also see them migrating through late November. According to hikers, the best trail for birdwatching in the area is the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail to Hickory Hill Trail and Crooked Lane.
Sunset Coast Birding Trail
The Sunset Coast Birding Trail, which follows the Lake Huron coastline, attracts more than 400 bird species each year, including snowy owls, warblers, waterfowl, and federally endangered piping plovers. The trail offers more than 30 birding sites along 150 miles, so there are plenty of places to stop. Don’t forget your binoculars.
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