Birds and Birding in Southeast Michigan

Tips, Guide, Types of Birds, Best Locations for Birding, Rare Birds

State Bird of Michigan: Robin
Photo © John Shave, Creative Commons

The environment -- climate, geography, availability of food, pollution -- dictates the types of birds that breed in or migrate through Southeast Michigan. If you are thinking of birding in Southeast Michigan, you'll find plenty of opportunity as the area's deciduous forests, rivers and lakes cater to several broad categories of birds, including shore birds, wading birds, waterfowl, birds of prey, and perching/song birds.

That being said, you may just spot a species or two that is rare for the area.

Best Locations for Birding

As might be expected, parks, nature areas, and preserves make for the best locations for birding in southeast Michigan. While the list of birding locations in and around the Metro-Detroit area is long and varied, there are a few locations that have earned some national and maybe even international renown.

  • Lake Erie Metro Park in Brownstown is often referred to as one of the best locations for birding in North America for hawk watching. The park contains three miles of shoreline along both the Detroit River and western shore of Lake Erie, a unique geography that forms a migratory corridor for hawks and other birds of prey. In fact, the park has been named a Global Important Bird Area. Hawks within the park include Red-Tailed Hawks, Sharp-Shinned Hawks and large kettles of Broad-Winged Hawks, as well as the larger Cooper's Hawk that likes wooded and urban areas and has been known to snatch song birds out of mid air for a meal. Other birds of prey spotted in the park include Bald and Golden Eagles.

    The park spreads over 1607 acres. Its river backwaters and coastal wetlands also attract waterfowl to the area, as does the Wild Celery that grows in the Detroit River and the Trenton Power Plant that heats the water and keeps the lakefront free of ice.

    Several exotic birds have also been spotted among the 300 species of birds reported in the park, including the Glossy Ibis from Florida, White Pelican and White-Tailed Eagle.
  • Pointe Mouillee State Game Area in Rockwood is another popular location for birding in Southeast Michigan. The area is located along the shore of Lake Erie by the mouth of the Huron River. It, too, is located by the Detroit River corridor through which many hawks and other birds of prey travel on their way south. Marshes, mud flats and open water provide a unique habitat for over 290 species of birds, including shorebirds, waterfowl and wading birds. Perching/Song birds also frequent the area, including the Passerine that is attracted to the park's Cottonwood Trees and Willows. Also of interest at Pointe Mouillee State Game Area:

    Festival: The park holds an annual Waterfowl Festival the first weekend after Labor Day.

    Checklist: Birds of Pointe Mouillee State Game Area
  • Belle Isle Park was ranked by Bird Watching Daily as one of the best locations for birding in the nation. While Belle Isle Park was the only location listed in the southeast region of Michigan, it ranked 13th out of the 160 birding hot spots chosen.

    Belle Isle is an island located in the Detroit River just northeast of Rivard Plaza and Chene Park on the Detroit Riverfront. In addition to migrating waterfowl and songbirds, the Pileated Woodpecker and Northern Saw-whet Owl have been spotted on the island.

    The island's other claim to fame comes courtesy of its swamp woods, which help feed a recorded 20 species of Warblers, including the Golden-Winged, Hooded, Prothonotary, and Kentucky Warbler, as well as the rarely spotted Connecticut and worm-eating Warblers.

    Checklist: Bird Checklist for Belle Isle Park

Still More Locations for Birding

While the parks listed above represent some of the best locations for birding and hawk watching in the nation, they are but a handful of the locations for birding in Southeast Michigan.

Rare Birds

If you like your birds rare when birding in southeast Michigan, then finding the best locations for birding may be more of a challenge. There is at least one tool, however, that will help you to find that bird that's visiting our shores on a lark or through a navigational error: Michigan Rare Bird Alert archives rare-bird reports from birders across the state.


Michigan State Bird

The American Robin was chosen as the Michigan State Bird in 1931. The Robin, a common back-yard bird in the Thrush family, is also the state bird of Connecticut and Wisconsin.


Birds of Michigan / Ted Black and Gregory Kennedy (2003 Edition)

Birds of the Lake Erie Region / Carolyn Platt (2001, Kent State University Press)

Birding / Huron-Clinton Metroparks

BywaysToFlyways / Metropolitan Affairs Coalition

Discover the Southern Lower Peninsula / Michigan DNR

Important Bird Areas in Michigan / National Audubon Society