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Spring is a great time for birding in Michigan. Our early migrants are back and settling in to woo a mate and raise a family; our late migrants are flooding through in great colorful waves as they race to be the first back to claim their own nesting spot.
Some of those early signs of things warming up again are the return of species like red-winged blackbirds, turkey vultures, sandhill cranes, and Canada geese. These may not be rare and exciting birds at first glance, but their comfort in living around people gives us an opportunity to watch them as they go about their day.
You'll want to invest in a pair of binoculars before you head out, but even $30-40 can buy basic all-purpose binoculars to help you start checking out the birds around you. If you need help or pointers, you can check out this binocular buying guide or watch this video: Binoculars: how it works or this video: Everything you need to know about binoculars. (The DNR does not endorse any of these companies, we are just pointing you towards some helpful information.)
Find a damp weedy roadside ditch and enjoy the show as male red-winged blackbirds pop up ready for a fight in defense of their lady.
In early spring, sandhill cranes migrate to their breeding grounds. Try to catch a glimpse of their dance or hear their distinctive call.
Slow down to appreciate the stately stroll of a pair of Canada geese as they come back home for the summer and see what's changed since they've been gone.
Watch the skies at dawn and dusk for swirling back clouds of birds as kettles of turkey vultures rise out of or settle into their nightly roost site.
More spring migrants
In bold yellows, blacks and whites, flocks of warblers stand out when they land to rest and recharge. Watch for wooded or shrubby thickets where they'll stop to grab some bugs or berries before heading out again
Whether it's on muddy conservation managed wetlands, spring soaked river floodplains, or farm fields left wet and mucky after the last rain, it's a great time to spot shorebirds stopping for a quick bite before moving on further north.
With 5.5 million acres of wetlands, Michigan is a summer destination for many species of waterfowl. Watch for puddle ducks on our quiet inland lakes and marshes and diving ducks along the Great Lakes shoreline.
Places to watch spring migration
Below are just a few ideas of prime bird watching locations:
Scattered across the southern Lower Peninsula, the "Wetland Wonders" are managed to provide waterfowl habitat for nesting and migration and for the benefit of other wetland wildlife.
Spots along Great Lakes shoreline migration routes:
Tawas Point State Park, Port Crescent State Park, Belle Isle, Sterling State Park, Sleeper State Park, Bay City State Park, Leelanau State Park, Fisherman's Island State Park, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, McLain State Park