Four Birding Trails and Sanctuaries to Visit in Michigan

Today, guest blogger Mallory King from Michigan Audubon Society shares her list of Michigan birding trails and sanctuaries that are great for an afternoon spent birdwatching. 

Photo by Roger Eriksson, bird species: Yellow Warbler Photo by Roger Eriksson, bird species: Yellow Warbler

Did you know that birding is currently the second fastest growing hobby in the United States after gardening, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)? It’s true! In the US in 2011 over 47 million people considered themselves birdwatchers. What is even more astonishing is birders spent an estimated $41 billion on trip related expenditures and equipment. That translated to a $107 billion boost to our economy, thanks birders!

So how many Michigan residents classify themselves as birdwatchers? The USFWS report states over 2 million Michigan residents are birdwatchers.

Now that we’ve caught your attention, you are probably wondering where these 2 million residents go to see birds in Michigan? Well you are in luck, we’ve compiled a list of birding trails where you can observe some of Michigan’s 400+ bird species and connect with nature!

Birding Trails in Michigan:

The Superior Birding Trail: This trail covers 150 miles in the Upper Peninsula from the Seney National Wildlife Refuge to Whitefish Point; you can observe over 300 bird species here.

The Sleeping Bear Birding Trail: The SBBT West which the trial is commonly referred too, includes 123 miles from Manistee to Traverse City along the scenic M-22 highway and Lake Michigan shoreline; here over 250 bird species can be observed.

The Beaver Island Birding Trail: Located entirely on Lake Michigan’s largest island, encompasses over 100 miles of road and 12,000 acres of natural habitat; over 250 bird species can be spotted on this adventurous trail.

The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail: Also known as SBBT East, takes travelers 142 miles along the Lake Huron shoreline from Port Crescent State Park to Tawas Point State Park, the trail is home to over 200 bird species and an abundance of quaint Michigan towns.

While birding trials are a great way to observe a large numbers of birds and get a little traveling in there are plenty of opportunities to go birdwatching locally in your own community!

Birding Sanctuaries in Michigan:

Photo by Roger Eriksson, bird species: Kirltand's Warbler Photo by Roger Eriksson, bird species: Kirltand's Warbler

Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary: Located on 1,000 acres in Jackson County this sanctuary attracts thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes each fall. You can also walk the more than 2 miles of trails and observe over 200 bird species.

Bernard W. Baker Bird Sanctuary: In Calhoun County consists of over 898 acres and provides guests with over 2 miles of walking trails. The sanctuary is dominated by the large 200-acre Big Marsh Lake which provides a rich habitat for over 200 bird species.

Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary: This unique sanctuary has over 1500 feet of Lake Michigan frontage on its 76 acres in Manistee County. The property was originally landscaped as an arboretum and visitors can see a California Redwood, Ginko, Giant Sequoia and Sycamore while walking the 1.5 miles of trails. Additionally, the sanctuary provides a cozy Bed and Breakfast for visitors to stay and go birdwatching.

Otis Farm Bird Sanctuary: Located on 128 acres in Barry County this sanctuary boasts an array of rolling fields, mature forests and expansive marshland to help create a top notch area that is home to several rare and endangered bird species. Michigan Audubon Members can also rent the cabin on the sanctuary which sleeps 12 for only $25/night. Enjoy over 1.4 miles of trails and over 165 species of birds.

If that doesn’t want to make you go birdwatching, Michigan is also home to the largest breeding population of the Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler during the summer months. Birders come from across the United States and the world to see this elusive bird and Michigan Audubon offers free Kirtland’s Warbler tours from May 15-July 4 in Grayling!

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.24.45 PM Photo by Daniel Boehm, species Bufflehead

Michigan truly is a birdwatcher’s paradise! The state is gushing with an abundance of parks, sanctuaries and trails that provide rich birding opportunities for residents and visitors year-round. If you haven’t done so yet, get out and go birding! Chances are you know at least one birdwatcher.

Have you been birdwatching in Michigan? Where did you go? 



Mallory King is Michigan Audubon’s Marketing and Communication Coordinator, she urges you to connect with the organization. She is an avid outdoor and conservation enthusiast. Her favorite bird is the Bufflehead.