Bird watching (or birding as it is often called) is not a new hobby. Humans have pursued an interest in watching birds for over a century and its appeal is growing. These days, there are over 15 million bird watchers in the US with a noticeable growth in the last few years.
So, there is increasing demand to find the very best bird watching spots but residents and visitors to Michigan will be spoilt for choice this summer. In this area, summer bird watching is classed as June and July and corresponds to the nesting and breeding season. August is the beginning of the fall migratory season. So, here are our top Michigan summer bird-watching locations.
If you are new to bird watching, this is a great place to start! Beaver Island is Lake Michigan’s largest island and is an absolute gem for bird watching at all times of the year. You will be able to spot its own resident species including chickadees, woodpeckers and grouse. In the summer, many of the migratory birds stay to nest for the summer breeding season. Because the island is so big, there are multiple trails and even boat trips to give you a huge choice of viewing locations in diverse habitats.
Novice bird watchers may appreciate the handy map giving the locations of viewing sites which are a combination of road observation points and trails. There is also a detailed description of what you can see at each of the sites.
In the summer, the grassy fields on either side of East Side Drive from the big curve are particularly good for observing grassland birds such as the Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and several sparrow species who like to forage for insects here. Another summer favorite is Cable’s Creek Road which is also known as Warbler Alley because it attracts so many different warbler species which will be nesting in the summer months.
If you need or want to observe birds from your car, check out the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Start at the visitor’s center where there are helpful staff that can explain where the best sites are. Then, check out the observation decks where, in the summer, you can watch ospreys nesting. The adults usually return to the same nesting sites each year. If you are lucky, you may even see one on the nest.
One word of caution if you decide to leave your car and hike around the refuge, is that you will need to protect yourselves from biting insects that are also very active at this time of year. Watch out for black flies, deer flies, ticks and mosquitoes.
The Hartwick Pines State Park has 49 acres of old-growth pine forest and 21 miles of trails. There is also a visitor center and logging museum if you want a break from the outdoors. However, the real attraction of this bird-watching location is that you get to see one of the world’s rarest birds. The Kirtland’s warbler was once on the brink of extinction and even though its fortunes have improved lately, it is still on the State Endangered Species list. These precious birds are sometimes called jack pine warblers because they breed almost exclusively in jack pine forests.
Because this warbler is highly protected, you cannot set out to see it on your own. However, in the early and mid-summer you can join a guided tour that will take groups of 20 people to the protected pine barrens. The success rate for spotting this very special bird is high but of course, there are no guarantees.
Lake Huron is the second-largest of the Great Lakes with a surface area of 23,000 square miles. The stunning Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area is on part of the shoreline of its Saginaw Bay. Here you will find a wide variety of birds. Amongst them will be the least bittern which is one of the smallest herons in North America and the American bittern. You can also expect to see Caspian and Forster’s terns, sora and Virginia rails, the common moorhen and black-crowned night-herons.
During the summer months, you will also be treated to the sight of a breeding colony of yellow-headed blackbirds who are usually found further east. There is even a pair of bald eagles nesting in the area.
This is one of the better bird-watching spots if you love the sound of song birds. Many of them can be found nesting in the marshes and these include song sparrows and swamp sparrows (which look similar), marsh wrens and sedge wrens, warblers and the common yellowthroat (a small bird with a bright yellow chest). Migrant shore birds and waterfowl can also be found during the summer months.
This may seem like the least glamorous place you could ever want to visit and the last place you would go bird watching but think again! The Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment System is a well-recognized location in Michigan to spot some wonderful birds. It’s one of the largest, if not the largest, wastewater treatment facility in the US and has 11,000 acres of settling ponds. These are surrounded by open fields making it an ideal habitat for many waterbirds. You can expect to see herons, ducks, shorebirds, and gulls in large numbers so you will not have a wasted visit. During the summer months, you can also catch a rare sighting of the eared frebes.
If you decide to venture out into the adjacent fields, you are in the habitat of the rough-legged hawk, black-bellied plover, American golden-plover, horned larks, American pipits, and Lapland longspurs. If you are lucky, you may see a golden eagle or a bald eagle feeding on the waterfowl which are abundant in this area. Please note that you must obtain a permit from the Administration building before you can enter the facility but you can arrange these in advance on the telephone.
The Allegan State Game Area is well-known as a location where you can catch a glimpse of migrating birds in the spring and fall but it has plenty to offer the summer bird watcher as well.
It’s a large natural area covering over 50,000 acres and provides a deciduous wood and farmland habitat although there are also marshes and swamps. All of these, together with
the riparian woodland that borders the Kalamazoo River, provides a diverse environment with loads of bird-watching opportunities and locations.
During the summer, you can use the hiking trails to access these spots and can go birding on the Kalamazoo River in a canoe. Although, please respect the sections that have been closed off from visitors to protect the wildlife.
Summer offers you a great diversity of bird species. You will get to see the thriving prothonotary warblers along the river and a good-sized population of yellow-billed cuckoo. You may also spot Acadian flycatchers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, red-eyed vireos, , cerulean warblers, American redstarts, and many others.
Otis Farm Bird Sanctuary is found next to the Barry State Game Area which is a critical breeding habitat for some species. Why not visit both? Barry State Game Area is 2,000 acres of mostly mature oak-hickory forest. However, the Otis Farm Sanctuary is much smaller, covering only 128 acres. Despite its smaller size, it has a rich and diverse habitat that includes marshland, rolling fields, a mature forest, kettle hole marshes and some springs.
So, what can you expect to see in the summer? Look out for the red-headed woodpecker, the pileated woodpecker and grasshopper sparrow. You are also very likely to see warblers, the Henslow’s sparrow and a Sandhill Crane. There are some birds of prey that visit this habitat too. You may see a bald eagle or an osprey if you are lucky.
Bird watching in Michigan
So, as you can see, there are plenty of spectacular birding sites in Michigan that can be enjoyed outside of the main fall and spring migratory seasons. This is largely due to a range of conservation areas and a wide variety of protected habitats. There’s something for beginners and experienced birders alike and you can view our feathered friends from a car, on foot or even from a canoe!
Ten Bird Watching Hotspots in Michigan – Bird Watchers Digest Accessed August 2022
Michigan’s Birding Trail – Network Michigan Audubon August 2022
Birding Is A Popular Outdoor Past-time – America State Parks
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Can you bird watch from a car in Michigan?
Yes, you can travel to birdwatching spots by car in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Although there are walking trails here too if you would prefer.
What birds can you see in the summer in Michigan?
Summer is outside of the main migratory season so you wil see resident species such as woodpecker. However, many migratory birds nest in the area to raise their young over the summer.
Can you spot any endangered birds in Michigan in the summer.
Yes, at the Hartwick Pines State Park you can join an organised tour to see the Kirtland’s warbler. This is not available all year. You cannot set off to see this bird by yourself.
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