Department of Natural Resources
Some of Michigan's best birding can be found in the fall. Birds from across Canada and the north central US make a beeline for the Great Lakes on their migration south. The big water on the Lakes and the region's abundant wetlands are a vital refueling stop for hundreds of species. It's also time to watch for northern birds that come to spend the winter in Michigan.
Experienced birders know that there are few places as good for finding shorebirds, waterbirds and waterfowl as wastewater facility locations, and the Muskegon Wastewater Facility is no exception. As one of Michigan's Wetland Wonders, it's a great place to stop in the fall and look for massive flocks of some birds you'd be lucky to find elsewhere in Michigan.
During migration large numbers of waterfowl, especially northern shovelers and ruddy ducks, can be found in the ponds. In late fall and winter you may see snowy owls and snow buntings, along with Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, plovers, sandpipers and dozens of other species.
Head to the big water in the fall to watch waterbirds fish their way south. Species you may spot include long-tailed ducks, common loons, scoters and glaucous gulls. A spotting scope is helpful if you're looking to find birds on the Great Lakes; they'll often be far enough offshore that it's difficult to get good looks with binoculars. What you will be able to find with binoculars are the hawks, vultures and eagles following the shoreline south. And keep an eye on coastal marshes for songbirds and shorebirds. Be sure to check the migration forecast on BirdCast before you head out to see where birds are moving.
The two species of swans most Michiganders know are our native trumpeter swans and the invasive mute swan. But did you know a third species of swan visits our state every year? Tundra swans on migration from their breeding grounds in Canada to their wintering grounds along the mid-Atlantic coastline stop for a rest and a snack in and around Saginaw Bay. If you visit at the right time, you can find hundreds to thousands of these large white birds picking food from harvested cropland around the Thumb or loafing in the bay.
If you ever thought about heading to Detroit to look for birds, this is the time to do it. Birds following the Great Lakes south on migration get funneled down the Detroit River corridor every fall. You can look for bobbing rafts of hundreds of ducks on the water, a steady stream of hawks and eagles following the shoreline from the air, and songbirds dropping into brushy thickets looking for a snack for the road. With plenty of state parks, game areas, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, and city parks, you're sure to find your new favorite fall birding destination.
The changing of the seasons means saying goodbye to some of the summer's feathered Michiganders, and one of the best places to watch this annual nature show is at the Straits of Mackinac. Visit the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch crew on the north side of the bridge to look for and learn about the hawks, falcons and eagles passing by during the day. Head across the bridge to the dark sky preserve at Wilderness State Park for the night and listen for the calls of night migrating songbirds.