Michigan Birds

Michigan is a heaven on earth for birders who need to watch myriad bird species. The Great Lake state is home to more than 450 species, allowing bird enthusiasts to witness amazing Michigan birds ranging from the iconic red-breasted mergansers to the cute warblers.

More than 100 state parks, 3,200 miles of lake, and 5 national parks make Michigan a great place for birds to live year-round or migrate in a specific season. If you are an avid birder, here are 20 best birds to watch throughout the state.

Amazing Michigan Birds

Mute Swan

Michigan Birds

Also known as Cygnus olor, the graceful waterfowl is a year-round resident in Michigan. These swans can be found along Lake Michigan and through the Straits of Mackinac. Mute swans are characterized by their orange bills, white plumage, and quite large basal knob.

Among other swan species, Cygnus olor is one of the most aggressive particularly during the breeding season. Make sure to keep your distance and avoid approaching their nests or their goslings unless they will attack you.

Red-Breasted Merganser

Michigan Birds

Common merganser can be easily found in Michigan but witnessing the red-breasted one can be a wonderful experience for birders. This species generally breeds in the Arctic but some of them migrate to the upper peninsula of the state during the breeding season.

However, you may need to wait until winter only to see these ducks. During this season, red-breasted merganser or Mergus serrator can be easily seen, especially around the lakes. Watch them carefully as common merganser can make you confused.

American Black Duck

Michigan Birds

Anas rubripes or American black duck is one of Michigan birds to enjoy. At a glance, these ducks look like common mallard but you can notice their mottled head with lighter color than their body. American black ducks also have purple speculum that can help you distinguish the species.

And yet, identifying American black ducks is getting more challenging as they hybridize with mallards. They can be found in southern Michigan and when the breeding season comes, they commonly migrate to the upper peninsula.

Iceland Gull

Michigan Birds

Iceland gull (Larus glaucoides) is among the rare visitors in Michigan and witnessing this bird species can be unforgettable experience. Although these white gulls visit the state regularly, birders need more effort to find this bird species, especially during winter season.

Iceland gull can be found in the southeastern Lake Huron as well as Lake Michigan. They usually blend with darker gulls, but they can be easily identified from their yellow bill, pink legs, and pale plumage.

Common Loon

Michigan Birds

Among other Michigan birds, common loons are the iconic summer bird that can be found throughout the upper peninsula. Some of them are also found in the lower peninsula and Lake Huron. Also known as Gavia immer, these ducks have beautiful plumage.

Common loons are elegant divers and they love to stay in wide and deep lakes. Interestingly, you can enjoy their hunting calls on summer nights. Their calls can be heard from the lakeside or campsites by the lakes.

Caspian Tern

Michigan Birds

Compared to other tern species, Caspian terns are bulkier and heavier. They are sometimes confused for a gull but these terns have a thick bill with flashy red color, allowing birders to identify them easily. Caspian terns are commonly seen in flocks with gulls and other terns.

As one of Michigan birds, the terns can be found in several sites. Make sure to visit these places to watch Caspian terns in their habitat:

  • Michigan’s east coast
  • Straits of Mackinac
  • The upper peninsula

Mourning Warbler

Michigan Birds

Different species of warblers can be found in Michigan, especially during the summer. But mourning warbler (Oporornis philadelphia) is one of the most attractive among birders. The bird looks beautiful with lime green chest and grayish head.

Forest edges and dense thickets are the habitat of mourning warblers. During the breeding season, you can find them in their common breeding range. It starts from Michigan’s lower peninsula to the upper peninsula, though they generally breed further north.

Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland’s Warbler

Also known as Setophaga kirtlandii, the Kirtland’s warbler is one of reasons why birders need to visit Michigan. This species is considered almost threatened, so watching this warbler is really longed by birders around the globe. To prevent them from danger, designated breeding sites are established.

The Kirtland’s warbler breeds in isolated pine forests in Michigan and some areas in Wisconsin. After breeding, they migrate to Bahamas to spend winter. These birds can be identified from their bold colorations and markings which make them distinct.

Golden-Winged Warbler

Michigan Birds

During summer, golden-winged warbler is one of Michigan birds to watch in the upper and lower peninsula. The Vermivora chrysoptera is a popular bird species with beautiful coloration. Their bright yellow crown patch and golden wing make this warbler stand out.

These warblers are commonly seen in Michigan forests which have been harvested and replanted. Swampy areas also become the habitat of this boldly marked warbler.

Northern Goshawk

Michigan Birds

If you are a serious birder and need something different to watch, seek after northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). This raptor is one of the most sought after though it’s a year round resident. You can head for Michigan’s lower and upper peninsula to see this goshawk.

During winter, they migrate to the southern part of Michigan. Even though they are quite rare to see, goshawk occasionally appear in woodland edges or agricultural areas for prey hunting. In those areas, they can find abundant preys.

Snowy Owl

Michigan Birds

This owl may remind you of Harry Potter’s Hedwig for its white coloration and markings. Snowy owl, also known as Bubo scandiacus, is one of Michigan birds that can be seen during winter. Though it generally breeds in the Arctic, their breeding range extends to the central and northern Michigan.

The snowy owls are often found on roofs or open beaches. Poles and buildings also become safe place for this distinct bird species. They are typically solitary so you won’t find them in a flock. Identifying snowy owls is pretty easy as they have white plumage for the males and heavy marking for the females.

Sandhill Crane

Michigan Birds

The elegant and graceful crane is among Michigan birds to find in spring and fall. During those seasons, sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) migrate through the Great Lake state. Some of them breed in wetlands or marshy areas, which are rather uncommon.

While wetlands become their favorite sites for breeding, the migrating cranes are often found in agricultural fields which provide abundant foods. During their flight, these birds also have distinctive calls which tell their friends that migration is underway.

Upland Sandpiper

Michigan Birds

Bartramia longicauda or commonly known as upland sandpiper is one of shorebirds, but they don’t live at the shore. Instead, they prefer grassy plains and open area as their habitats. These birds are common in Michigan, particularly in the lower peninsula and they typically breed throughout the state.

The upland sandpipers often survey the surrounding area by perching on vantage points. It makes no surprise that you can see them on boulders or fence posts. This bird species is characterized by their long legs and necks, round heads, and distinctive markings.

Great Black-Backed Gull

Michigan Birds

As one of visitors, the great black-backed gull can give you a great sight. Larus marinus is a large and bulky gull species that can be found year-round in Michigan. During the winter, these Michigan birds spread along the Great Lakes.

The great black-backed gulls are actually more familiar throughout the Atlantic Coast with their westernmost range is in Michigan. For western birders who visit the state, these birds become a key gull species.

Piping Plover

Michigan Birds

As one of endangered bird species, piping plover is hard to find in Michigan. Also known as Charadrius melodus, these delicate birds can be identified from their small legs and black bill. They can be found on beach areas or around Straits of Mackinac.

The plovers breed on isolated beach around the straits. Some conservations are built to protect their sites. When disturbed, piping plover will abandon their chicks and nests. It worsens population declines and threatens their existence.

Wild Turkey

Michigan Birds

Among other Michigan birds, wild turkeys are abundant throughout the state particularly in the lower peninsula. Local people usually use them as game birds during hunting seasons and they can be found in small towns as well as suburban areas.

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is easy to attract, but they can be aggressive and their hearty appetites can be troublesome. If you plan to recreationally hunt or simply watch these birds, make sure to do carefully.

American Woodcock

Michigan Birds

Characterized by their long bills, American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) can be found in damp fields and marshes throughout Michigan. The state is included into their breeding range, so it is not that difficult to watch them in the Great Lake state.

Another interesting thing about the woodcocks is their courtship dance that you can see during spring and early summer. At that period, male birds strut to impress their females which give attractive experience for birders to witness this moment.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Michigan Birds

The yellow-headed blackbirds are commonly found in western states but they are also recorded as one of Michigan birds. They migrate and breed in Michigan during summer, giving more chances for birders to observe their lifestyle.

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus can be easily identified by its bright yellow head and bold markings. They are commonly seen in marshes and their squeaky voice sounds like rusty door. Oftentimes, these birds come in flocks with other blackbirds and yet their bright heads make them stand out.


Michigan Birds

Another bird species to see in Michigan is the veery (Catharus fuscescens), that is characterized by their warm tone plumage and buffy eye ring. These birds also have blurry spotted breast that helps easy identification when they perch or fly around with other thrushes.

The veeries prefer wooded and leafy habitats and they like to stay in thicket areas. As they are shy, it may be a little difficult to approach these birds. They can be found throughout Michigan during breeding season but are rarely seen in the southern part of the state.

Black-Billed Cuckoo

Michigan Birds

Coccyzus erythropthalmus or commonly known as black-billed cuckoo is a common yet secretive bird. They prefer dense and leafy forests to breed and birders need to struggle only to see these birds. But they also like to sing at night and even backyard birders can distinguish their voice easily.

The black-billed cuckoo is pretty easy to identify. They have plain, long tail and iconic dark bill with red rings on their eyes. These birds breed throughout the state so it is one of common Michigan birds to see year-round.


Michigan Birds

Summer is the best time to watch bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). This bird species is found throughout Michigan and they can be easily seen in pastures, grassy meadows, or fields. Those areas provide abundant seeds and insects for them.

Identifying bobolink is quite tricky, especially female birds which look more like red-winged blackbirds. However, the males are easy to distinguish with their yellow napes, white-patched wings and black bodies. But during fall, males will resemble their females.

Northern Shrike

Michigan Birds

The northern shrikes are regular visitors to Michigan, especially during winter. Northern shrike (Lanius excubitor) is characterized by their gray upperparts, narrow black mask, and black wings. In winter, birders can see these birds all over the state.

The edges of spruce forests are their favorite habitat, though meadows and farmland become their hunting sites for mice, insects and small birds. If you are lucky, you can find juvenile birds which have brownish tinge on their plumage.

Boreal Chickadee

Michigan Birds

The rotund boreal chickadee is a northern species listed as Michigan birds. The boreal chickadee (Poecile hudsonica) is not as common as black-capped chickadee but they are recognized as year-round residents. You can find them in the upper peninsula with dense spruce forests as their habitats.

These birds are characterized by their round body and dusty appearance. The boreal chickadees also have brown head with slight markings on their wings. They can be easily attracted with nut and seed.

Birders worldwide can visit Michigan to see distinctive Michigan birds. The state has become a safe place for a long list of birds, either to breed or migrate during certain season. Make sure to note when and where to find a specific bird so you can get what you want.

Sometimes, when people ask what I do to make a living, I can't think of a better word than "writer". I am a student, web maker, writer, bird lover ... and many more.

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