Birding Hotspots, Trails and Sanctuaries

Sandhill CraneCelebrate spring and explore Michigan’s many bird-watching prospects. Nothing says spring like the “conk-a-ree” call of a red-winged blackbird or the raucous sounds of a sandhill crane. Spring means bird migration, and that makes for prime birding opportunities in Michigan’s woods, wetlands and waters.

With the warmer weather and longer days, Michigan’s spring birding season is almost here, and now is the time to start making plans. According to a study done by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, birding is the second fastest growing hobby in the United States. What has made watching birds so popular? Well, it could be a number of things; but, whatever it is, it seems to make people feel good.

Below, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shares several tips for making the best of your birdwaching experience in state parks, trails and natural areas.

  • May is the best month to be on the lookout for colorful warblers. More than 40 species of warbler have been observed in Michigan. Songbird migration peaks in mid-May in southern Michigan and shortly afterward in northern parts of the state. 
     
  • Watch the weather. Strong southerly winds can result in good overnight flights of birds. When southerly winds run into storm fronts at night, this can create “fall-out” conditions where migrating birds are forced to land. Fall-out can result in heavy concentrations of birds in their respective habitats. 
     
  • Use your ears. Most spring migrants can be heard singing this time of year. Once you start learning some of the songs, it becomes easier to seek out new birds when listening for songs that you don’t recognize. 
     
  • Find the right location for the species you want to see. Just about any park will have decent habitat for spring migrants. Many of them eat bugs, so try to find southern-facing habitat along water. Not sure what parks are near you? We can help you find the find the perfect state park for your birding interests.  
     
  • Make it a multi-day adventure. In many parks, birding can be done right from a campsite. Since the flocks typically will move around in the morning, Campers can enjoy birding while enjoying breakfast and a fresh cup of coffee at a Michigan campground. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time as our state campsites fill-up quickly in spring. 
     
  • Join fellow bird watchers. The best way to see more birds is with an extra set of eyes, especially if you tag along with a more experienced birder. 
     
  • Find a checklist for your area. There are regional field guides, and many of the mobile birding apps will allow you to filter by region. This helps you learn which birds are likely to be found in your area.  


Those who are new to birding and want to learn the basics of the activity before heading out should search the DNR’s Recreation 101 calendar for information on birding classes. These free, hands-on classes cover everything a starting birder needs to know.

Visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to stay up-to-date on birding and other outdoor recreations activities in Michigan.