Thanks to an abundance of lakes, seashores, and grasslands, Michigan represents a solid destination for any birder. The state boasts a great variety of habitats where many different species of birds live or make a seasonal appearance. Those who reside in Michigan and use a backyard feeder will be pleased to find out that both the summer and winter season provide many interesting bird visitors. If you want to explore the exciting birdlife from the state of Michigan, it’s recommended to check out the expanded network of trails dedicated to birdwatchers.
The following list provides you with the highlight species when it comes to Michigan birding. Make sure you get prepared with some essential gear first to improve the whole experience:
- Camera Backpack
Any serious birdwatching enthusiast needs to carry around a DSLR to capture great shots of the observed birds. If you have a bulkier and more professional-grade camera, it’s safe to say that you need a handy accessory to carry it. Check out this backpack designed for efficient camera storage with enough room for quick accessing of the field guide and other extra birding accessories.
- Michigan Field Guide
Speaking of field guides, take a look at this solid one that’s been recently updated to create the most comprehensive bird identification guide for Michigan. It’s sure to simplify your birdwatching experience and the old-school feel is arguably superior to checking out an app on your smartphone.
- Insect-proof Suit
Depending on the environmental conditions, your birding fun can be quickly ruined by the presence of annoying mosquitoes and other bugs. Investing in special repellent clothing with mesh netting could be a smart decision, especially for people that want more reliable protection. With the help of the following insect-proof suit, you can say goodbye to unwanted biters and critters. Alternatively, consider getting a strong bug-repellent spray.
1. Sandhill Crane
If you’re visiting the state of Michigan, you shouldn’t miss the stately look of the tall sandhill crane. This bird is quite easy to identify visually considering the red forecrown patch and long legs. There are no particular differences between the sexes like you’d usually notice in other bird species. The sandhill crane creates loud trumpeting sounds that make it stand out even more. Marshy areas, wetlands, and various open habitats in Michigan are considered ideal grounds for spotting this elegant type of crane.
2. Mute Swan
This is a spectacular bird that can be found in lake regions of Michigan year-round. The mute swan is present in various areas of the state including the western area and the eastern peninsula. It has the characteristic fairy tale look with a curved S-shaped neck and the bright orange bill that contrasts with black patches of skin. The mute swan has a suave white plumage, but don’t be deceived by its delicate appearance as the birds are known to be quite aggressive. Males can be differentiated from females when the basal knob of the bill swells in the mating season.
3. Spruce Grouse
Although fairly uncommon to see, the spruce grouse can be found in the boreal forest of Michigan. This is a large bird that’s similar to the ruffed grouse. It’s quiet and secretive and doesn’t easily flush. Birders who want a challenge will be certainly rewarded when spotting this type of grouse. Male birds show off a bright red wattle that contributes to a successful mating display together with the characteristic spreading and puffing of the patterned feathers. The name of this grouse comes from the preference for spruce and other coniferous needles.
4. Iceland Gull
One interesting gull species that can be found in Michigan, the Iceland gull has a particularly white look that makes it stand out compared to other types. It’s not a common sight but you have good chances to spot it in the winter when visiting Lake Huron or Lake Michigan. Iceland gulls rely on cliff ledges in Arctic regions during the breeding season. Lots of birds can winter in Arctic waters so that’s why you might not find it very easily down south. Keep in mind that these gulls can show variable plumage. Some can be pure white, others only paler or even darker-winged.
5. Great Gray Owl
As its name suggests, this is a large owl whose generously-sized head can quickly grab the attention. The gray suit provides it with a dapper appearance, especially considering the white neck patch that resembles the look of a bow tie. Although it’s a large bird, the great gray owl is not easy to spot unless you search very well for it. This species tends to spend most of its time in the boreal forest but you can admire its majestic look on cold mountain meadows and open areas of coniferous forests in Michigan.
6. Piping Plover
Here’s a cute little bird that you can admire while visiting the state of Michigan. The piping plover has an endangered status but you will be able to get a good look at it on isolated northern beaches. Even if you’re searching for the bird in a good place, it can still be difficult to notice its presence. This is because the sandy gray back of the piping plover offers reliable camouflage in the natural lakeshore environment of the bird. Distinctive traits include the big eyes, orange bill, and elegant black necklace.
7. Golden-winged Warbler
There are many beautiful warblers with colorful patterns to watch but the golden-winged species can easily stand out. This bird can be recognized by its characteristic black ear patch and sunny yellow crown. Streaks of gold can be found on the bird’s wings. The male is the most impressive as the female warbler shows duller color shades. Finding this small bird can be hard unless you listen for its distinctive buzz song. The northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan in the summer seems like one of the best places to encounter the golden-winged warbler.
8. Northern Goshawk
Birders who want to catch a sight of a bold raptor should try to see the northern goshawk in action. It resides permanently in Michigan’s peninsulas while the winter season can encourage it to explore southern regions of the state. Compared to sharp-shinned or other hawks found in suburban regions, the northern goshawk is larger and fiercer. This is a fairly secretive bird that shows off great aerial agility thanks to its broad wings and efficient tail. The raptor prefers hunting birds and mammal prey in forested areas using its powerful talons.
9. Pileated Woodpecker
The pileated species is the largest woodpecker in Michigan. Its dimensions are comparable to crows but the appearance is much more distinctive. Pileated woodpeckers show off white stripes on the neck and the wings as well as beautiful red crests. Depending on the region, it can be common or uncommon to find a pileated woodpecker. You can search for the birds on tree trunks as they perch vertically in their quest for insect prey. For increasing your odds of seeing this woodpecker, it’s recommended to explore mature forests with tall trees.
10. Caspian Tern
Similar in size to a large gull, the Caspian tern offers quite a sight for birders in Michigan. The bird has a characteristic coral red bill that helps it stand out compared to other terns. The bulky appearance of the bird can also contribute to making a correct identification. If you want to observe Caspian terns, your best bet is to check out the east coast of Michigan that’s visited by the birds during the summer mating season. It can take a bit of extra effort to differentiate them when hanging around in mixed flocks with various species of gulls and terns.
11. Yellow-Headed Blackbird
While yellow-headed blackbirds are more common in western US regions, they’re spread up to central Michigan. There’s not a lot of effort involved in recognizing them due to the bright yellow head appearance. Male birds have a more pronounced yellow patch that contrasts more impressively with the black body. Female yellow-headed blackbirds are actually brown. Despite the striking look, this bird can sometimes be more easily identified when listening for its harsh calls and strange grinding songs. Search reedy marshes if you want to increase your chances of observing yellow-headed blackbirds.
12. Evening Grosbeak
Known to visit the state of Michigan in the winter, the evening grosbeak is a heavyset finch that frequently shows up at bird feeders. Compared to the subtle gray female, the male evening grosbeak has a vibrant yellow body and a characteristic eyebrow stripe in the same shade. As they’re grosbeaks, these birds will also stand out thanks to having large bills. This bird species is declining in the eastern US because it moves very unpredictably depending on the presence of food sources such as berries and seeds.
13. Canada Jay
Canada jays are year-round residents of the forested regions in the upper peninsula of Michigan. This is a highly curious bird that’s likely to be encountered at the campsite looking to grab scraps of food. You can identify a Canada jay by its gray overall body in different paler shades on the belly and neck. The songbird has a round head and a distinctive small black cap pattern. Canada jays are ground foragers with a very diverse diet. They’re known to store food in trees to handle tough winters.
14. American Black Duck
The American black duck is found permanently in the southern parts of Michigan. The bird prefers northern regions of the state for their nesting grounds. Thanks to its dark chocolate-brown flanks and olive-hued bill, this duck blends flawlessly in shallow wetland landscapes. There’s also the problem of flocking with common mallards that can make identification more difficult. Consider observing the lighter mottled head of the American black duck as it helps to differentiate between the species. Although numbers of this duck declined sharply in the past, the bird has now a low conservation concern due to hunting restrictions.
15. Kirtland’s Warbler
Michigan provides great variation in terms of avian life but the Kirtland’s warbler holds a special place for this state. This is because this bird breeds only in Michigan and is considered near threatened. It has a very restricted range so you can only usually find it exclusively in the jack pine forests of this state. Kirtland’s warbler is highly sought among birders visiting Michigan. You can recognize it by its bold yellow-black colorations. This warbler’s nesting requirements involve small trees whose seeds are dependant upon forest fires.
16. Upland Sandpiper
Despite being a shorebird, the upland sandpiper prefers grassy plains and more open areas. The state of Michigan provides some great habitats for this bird. You can increase your chances of spotting an upland sandpiper by visiting western parts of the lower peninsula. Identifying this shorebird can be done by looking for distinctive features such as the speckled brown plumage and thin neck. The bill of the upland sandpiper is short and slim contributing to the overall elegant look of the bird. Males have a tendency to perch on fence posts or other vantage points to make their calls.
17. Carolina Wren
Generally found in the southern regions of the lower peninsula of Michigan, the Carolina wren is known to visit both urban and forested areas. This rufous-brown bird can be identified more easily by checking for a curved bill and long upward-cocked tail. Carolina wrens can be seen year-round in Michigan but not without some difficulties considering this is a fairly shy bird. You should try listening to its characteristic piercing exclamations. The song of the Carolina wren can sound similar to northern cardinals or tufted titmouse birds.
18. Black-Billed Cuckoo
The black-billed cuckoo can be a challenging find for birders anywhere. It’s not just its elusive nature and the dense wooded forest habitat but this type of cuckoo has also experienced a significant decline in its population. If you’re not lucky enough to catch a sight of the bird’s dark bill and long tail, you can at least hope to hear the hollow-sounding voice of the black-billed cuckoo. The staccato song can be heard more often at night. It can guide you to the secret spot where the bird sits perched in a motionless manner.
19. Boreal Chickadee
As its name suggests, this chickadee has boreal habits and can only be encountered in the northern regions of Michigan state. It’s much more common in Canada or Alaska. The boreal chickadee can be confused with the more widespread black-capped chickadee. The brown cap can help you distinguish it when it comes to visual identification. This bird lacks a whistled song and performs harsher vocalizations. Given enough patience, it’s likely that you will be able to spot the boreal chickadee foraging near coniferous tree trunks.
20. Orchard Oriole
This bird can frequently visit orchards in southern Michigan during the summer. Orchard orioles can be seen in other areas as well such as open woodlands but they’re more uncommon compared to more familiar Baltimore oriole birds. Even if you’re visiting its range and looking in all the right places among riverine shrubs or scattered trees, it can be still quite a challenge to get a good view of the elusive orchard oriole. For this reason, many birders focus on its distinctive whistled song performed to attract a potential mate.
21. Red-Breasted Merganser
With a shaggy head and thin bill, the red-breasted merganser is a fairly common sight in the boreal forest or in northern wetlands during its breeding season. The bird’s mating range extends to the upper Michigan peninsula but you can also observe this bird in other regions of the state during the cold season. If you need help with the visual identification, you can usually rely on the rusty chest to distinguish it from other merganser species. The males have a colorful and messy appearance with flashes of green on its head while the female red-breasted mergansers lack these characteristics altogether.
22. Red-eyed Vireo
Many eastern forests act as the perfect habitats for the red-eyed vireo. This bird shows a distinctive red eye but it can be more easily identified by listening to its incessant singing. Red-eyed vireos add plenty of life to the forest in the summer as they tend to sing on a very consistent basis, sometimes thousands of times per day just one male. Guided by its song, you might be able to spot the olive-green upper body of a red-eyed vireo among the treetops. It’s recommended to invest in a solid spotting scope to avoid uncomfortable neck-craning.
23. Common Tern
Easy to confuse with a gull from a considerable distance, the common tern is an elegant bird that shows a forked tail and black hood that creates an eye-catching contrasting effect with its vibrant orange bill. Northern Michigan regions in the summer can be ideal for spotting common tern breeding colonies. The birds can be seen soaring through the sky in a graceful manner before diving in the water to catch fish swimming close to the surface. Common terns are highly social and boisterous. You shouldn’t have too many issues getting a good look at this bird even from a closer distance as it’s not shy.
24. Wild Turkey
If you want to enjoy the spectacular display of the wild turkey, the state of Michigan can be considered a great destination. This bird lives in large flocks around forests but you can often spot it close to suburban regions. Courting males are the most impressive to see as they have a regal air when puffing their feathers and create the characteristic gobbling sounds. Wild turkey numbers used to be declining due to excessive hunting but the populations have now recovered enough to make it relatively easy for birders to see them.
25. American Robin
Known to fill mornings with their cheery songs, American robins are treasured birds that can be seen in their natural habitat in Michigan. It’s the state bird of Michigan as well as a couple of other states such as Wisconsin and Connecticut. An avid insect eater, the American robin can be often encountered searching for earthworms in parks or backyards. Aside from their characteristic singing, it’s also easy to recognize this bird by its large rust-colored belly that contrasts with the black head.
26. Mourning Warbler
Birders searching for uncommon warblers will be delighted to catch a sight of the mourning warbler. This bird makes a summer appearance in Michigan for its breeding season. Look for it in dense thickets and forest edges in both peninsulas in the state. The mourning warbler’s appearance incorporates various shades of yellow, green, and blue-gray making it stand out among similar birds. Despite the bright look, it can be difficult to get a good view unless you strive to listen for the specific singing of this skulking bird.
27. Common Loon
A solid attraction for birders in Michigan, the common loon is a skilled diver that shows off an attractive look during the breeding season. This waterbird has a patterned appearance with the main highlight being its elegant striped collar. The long-bodied common loon spends most of its time in the middle of lakes or close to shore on seacoasts. The bird will only come ashore for nesting so it’s recommended to get powerful binoculars to be able to spot them from the land.
28. Snowy Owl
Standing out even among other owls with its piercing yellow eyes and white plumage, the snowy owl can visit the state of Michigan but only in the winter period. If you check roofs, poles, and other solid vantage points, you might be able to spot a perched bird. Snowy owls are not social animals so you can usually find a single bird alone. Males can be harder to spot because their plumage is more prominently white. As its name suggests, this owl can easily blend in wide-open areas with snowy flat zones.
29. American Woodcock
Michigan provides lots of solid breeding grounds for the American woodcock. This is a small and secretive bird that can usually be found in dense marshes and young forests. Thanks to its cryptic brown-mottled plumage, you can have a hard time finding it in its natural environment. Look for the American woodcock in the spring season. You could be lucky enough to behold the bird’s distinctive display fight performed to attract a mate. The woodcock’s buzzy call can provide you with a good indication of the bird’s location before you can actually see it.
30. Northern Shrike
Northern shrikes reside in Michigan during the wintertime. While it doesn’t look that fierce, this small bird is actually a very capable predator that’s known to hunt small mammals and even other birds. Recognizing the northern shrike is fairly easy when checking for gray upperparts and the black patches on the wings and face. There are different types of habitats where you can expect to catch a sight of this bird. Consider carefully checking out the edges of spruce forests or farmland regions. Patience is required due to how northern shrikes tend to remain hidden from view.