Ultimate Birding in Michigan: A Good Place to Be Outdoors

Over the past several years, Michigan’s tourism department has advertised the state as a good place for outdoor activities. Birding in Michigan should be counted amongst those pursuits then.

Robin – Michigan state bird

In addition to the golfing, swimming, hiking, etc., bird watching in Michigan is also a very worthwhile venture for birders.

Here we’ll look at some of the more popular places to find birds in Michigan.

Use the table to click to a section you like. Otherwise, just keep scrolling down.

Which Michigan Trails Are Good for Birding?

There are four major trails designated in Michigan.

  1. Superior
  2. Sleeping Bear
  3. Beaver Island
  4. Saginaw Bay

These are not walking or hiking trails as such. They are more like loose connections of birding sites joined by highways. So while you can get out of your car and walk from time to time, don’t expect to spend several hours walking in a loop from start to finish.

Take along a pair of good binoculars so you can see more birds from your car.

The Superior Birding Trail

The Superior Trail is in Upper Peninsula of Michigan, aka The UP (with the individual letters pronounced, as you-pea). Folks who live there are commonly known as Yoopers.

It’s about 150 miles long and is technically a loop that includes both the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.

There are 14 major stops you can make or places you can look along the trail.

  • Tahquamenon Logging Museum
  • Skyline Road
  • Camp 7 Road
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park
  • Clark Lake / Tahquamenon Natural Area
  • Whitefish Point
  • Tahquamenon River Mouth
  • Hulbert Bog
  • Erickson Center for the Arts (Nature Trail)
  • Seney National Wildlife Refuge
  • Tahquamenon River
  • Kak’s Lake
  • Natalee State Forest Campground
  • Hamilton Lake Nature Area

This brochure (PDF) explains these points in more detail.

The Sleeping Bear Birding Trail

Commonly called the SBBT West, to distinguish it from the Saginaw Bay trail (SBBT East), the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail winds along the Lake Michigan coastline from Traverse City north to the tip of the peninsula west of Grand Traverse Bay and then south to Manistee.

Part of this trail includes the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. You’ll need to pay the fee to enter this area.

The many points of birding interest along the way are the following.

  • Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary and Lodge
  • Orchard Beach State Park
  • Portage Lake Wetlands / Farr Center
  • Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve
  • Benzie Scenic Turnout / Inspiration Point
  • Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve
  • Upper Herring Lake Nature Preserve
  • Point Betsie
  • Elberta Marsh and Betsie Bay
  • Platte River Point
  • Peterson Road
  • Platte Plains / Otter Creek
  • North Bar Lake
  • Chippewa Run Natural Area
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
  • Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
  • Little Glen Lake Picnic Area / Mill Pond
  • Glen Haven / Sleeping Bear Point
  • Thoreson Road / Bay View Trail
  • Port Oneida / Kelderhouse Loop
  • Pyramid Point
  • Shell Lake
  • Shalda Creek
  • Good Harbor Bay Trail
  • Manitou Islands
  • Whaleback Natural Area
  • Houdek Dunes Natural Area
  • Kehl Lake Natural Area
  • Lighthouse West Natural Area
  • Leelanau State Park
  • Suttons Bay Wetlands/Sewage Ponds
  • Saving Birds Thru Habitat / Charter Sanctuary
  • Veronica Valley Park
  • DeYoung Natural Area / Fulton Park
  • Grand Traverse Bay / Boardman Lake

The Beaver Island Birding Trail

Beaver Island is a large island in the middle of Lake Michigan. It’s about 40 miles west of Mackinaw City and is roughly halfway in between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

The birding trail is fairly easily divided into four main sections – north, east, west, and central.

In the northern section, you can visit these 9 main hotspots.

  • Beaver Island Lighthouse
  • Gull Harbor Natural Area
  • George and Althea Petritz Preserve
  • Chimney Swift Tower
  • St. James Township Campground
  • Indian Point (from the road)
  • Font Lake (northern end)
  • Font Lake (southern end)
  • Holy Cross Cemetery

On the east side of Beaver Island, check out these hotspots.

  • East Side Drive (north of the airport)
  • Luney’s Point
  • Little Sand Bay Preserve
  • Paula SImpson Trail
  • Bill Wagner Campground
  • Seven Bridges Trail
  • Johnny Martin’s Trail
  • Martin’s Bluff
  • Erber Preserve
  • Cable’s Creek Road
  • Lake Geneserath
  • Beaver Head Lighthouse

Moving across the island to the west side, you can find these hotspots.

  • Barney’s Lake Preserve
  • Kuebler’s Trail
  • Bonner’s Bluff Landing
  • Mrs. Redding’s Trail
  • Greene’s Lake
  • Tara’s Meadow (private)
  • Miller’s Marsh
  • Iron Ore Bay

Finally, in the center of Beaver Island you can see these birding sites.

  • Microwave tower on Sloptown Road
  • King’s Highway Wetland
  • Black Hills Clearing
  • Fox Lake
  • Camp #3
  • Hannigan’s Road

The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail

The fourth “trail” is also a collection of preserves and similar areas that you can’t walk like a normal trail either. The 40 sites listed here could keep you busy for many days.

  • Discovery Preserve
  • Middlegrounds Island
  • Golson Nature Area
  • Quanicassee State Wildlife Area
  • Hampton Township Nature Trail
  • Bay City Recreation Area
  • Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area
  • Pinconning County Park
  • Pinconning Nature Preserve
  • Wah Sash Kah Moqua Nature Preserve
  • Saganing Nature Preserve
  • Standish Nature Preserve
  • Wigwam Bay State Wildlife Area
  • Au Gres Delta Nature Preserve
  • Au Gres River DNR Boat Launch
  • Pressprich Nature Preserve
  • Singing Bridge
  • Gateway Park
  • Shoreline Park
  • East Tawas State Dock
  • Tawas Point State Park
  • Tawas Lake
  • Turtle Marsh Wildlife Area
  • Veteran’s Memorial Park
  • Crow Island State Game Area
  • William H. Haithco Park
  • Imerman Memorial Park
  • Green Point Environmental Learning Center
  • Price Nature Center
  • Saginaw Valley Rail Trail
  • Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Shiawassee River State Game Area
  • Ringwood Forest
  • Fish Point State Wildlife Area
  • Sand Point Nature Preserve
  • Caseville Municipal Marina
  • Albert E. Sleeper State Park
  • Huron County Nature Center
  • Port Crescent State Park
  • Port Austin State Harbor

Where Are the Bird Sanctuaries in Michigan?

There are at least 18 bird sanctuaries in the state. Most are located in south central Michigan, but a few are scattered up north too.

  • Bernard W. Baker
  • Brockway Mountain Drive
  • Capital City
  • Kate Palmer Wildlife
  • Lake Bailey
  • Lake Bluff
  • Little Lake
  • Margaret Shroyer
  • Martha Mott
  • Mildred Harris
  • Otis Farm
  • Owashtanong Islands
  • Phyllis Haehnle Memorial
  • Riverbank
  • Ronald H. Warner
  • Voorhees
  • William Gillette Sleeper Lake
  • Davis Bog
Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

Which Birds Can I Hope to See in Michigan?

At the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, you can normally find these birds.

Geese, ducks, loons, grebes, shorebirds, migrating raptors, ducks, Red-throated Loons, Common Loons, hawks, Sandhill Cranes, Whimbrels, Bonaparte’s Gulls, thrushes, warblers, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, Long-eared Owl, Boreal Owl, Spruce Grouse, Piping Plover, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Purple Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin

Look for these at the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area.

American White Pelican, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Osprey, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, Sandhill Crane, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, four species of terns, ibis, Bobolink, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Bald Eagle

Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan

Photo Credit

You’ll find some special birds at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.

Trumpeter Swan, Common Loon, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, American Bittern, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane, Wilson’s Snipe, American Woodcock, Black-billed Cuckoo, Merlin, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Winter Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird, Purple Finch, Spruce Grouse, Yellow Rail, Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge Is a fine place if you need to add any of these to your list.

Bald Eagles, Canada Geese, Snow Geese, Trumpeter Swans, Tundra Swans, 20 species of ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Sedge Wren, Marsh, Prothonotary Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Sandhill Cranes, Rough-legged Hawks, Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls, Northern Shrikes, Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings, Common Redpolls

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Photo Credit

Visit the Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve to see some of these favorites.

Trumpeter Swan, American Black Duck, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Green Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, Sandhill Crane, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Swamp Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrows, Sandpipers, Clay-colored Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Sandhill Cranes

Head to Lake Michigan for these beauties in the Warren Dunes State Park.

Sandhill Crane, Wild Turkey, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Veery, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Vesper Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Carolina Wren, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager

Tawas Point State Park is often home to these species.

Flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, orioles, ducks, gulls, terns, Piping Plovers, Caspian Terns, Black Terns, Common Terns, Forster’s Terns, Bald Eagles, Say’s Phoebe, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler, Kirtland’s Warbler

Head over to Belle Isle Park to check out as many of these as you can find.

Tundra Swan, Canvasback Duck, Redhead Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye Duck, all three mergansers, Brant Eider, King Eider, more than 30 species of warblers, Bald Eagles, Pileated Woodpecker

At Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area you’ll find dozens of these birds and more.

American Widgeon
American Widgeon

Photo Credit

Canada Geese, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Tundra Swans, Ring-necked Ducks, scaup, mergansers, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, Sandhill Crane, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Forster’s Tern, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Swamp Sparrow, Yellow-headed Blackbird

Finally, here are a few more birding locations in Michigan you might like to visit.

Ultimate Birding in the Midwest

Check out these other guides to Midwest birding. (I realize Michigan is listed here redundantly.)

Gary Sonnenberg

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