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Spring Birding

A Kirtlands warbler sitting in a tree

Spring Birding

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.)

Early migrants

A red-winged blackbird perched on a tree with blue sky background

Red-winged blackbirds

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.

A pair of sandhill cranes in a field

Sandhill cranes

Photo: Betsy Bloom/Iron Mountain Daily News

In early spring, sandhill cranes migrate to their breeding grounds. Try to catch a glimpse of their dance or hear their distinctive call.

A pair of Canada geese

Canada geese

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.

Three turkey vultures sit perched in a spring tree

Turkey vultures

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

May brings on the peak of migration for birds who wintered well south of Michigan. It's a great time to look for colorful warblers, flocks of dappled sandpipers, and the return of all of our puddle ducks. Whether you're an experienced birder or you just enjoy getting to see wildlife, there's plenty for you here in the spring. Check out the bird migration forecast from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to plan where and when you want to look for birds during this season. 

A yellow warbler sits on a tree branch with its mouth open


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

A group of sandpipers standing in the water


Photo: Jessica Bolser/USFWS

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.

A blue-winged teal duck floating on the water

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:

Wetland Wonders

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.

Spring hawkwatch sites:

Spots along Great Lakes shoreline migration routes: