Birds aplenty at annual bird watching festivals

Unique birds like this Black-necked Stilt have been seen at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County.(Courtesy | Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids PressBy Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids Press 
on April 13, 2014 at 7:01 AM, updated April 13, 2014 at 2:17 PM


It is getting to be that time of year when migratory birds return to Michigan in abundance, a period when fields, forests and meadows are thawing, when early spring plants begin to show, and when breeding birds, just returning from the their winter travels, begin to look for suitable nesting sites and habitat.

More than 500 bird species return to the Upper Midwest each spring, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Great flocks pour into the region following historic flight paths, called flyways. They sweep in along the Great Lakes and Michigan shorelines, bound for points north, often stopping to rest on prominent points of land. Others arrive as a wide front spread over the landscape. They too will find respite in the forests, farm fields and marshes along the route.

Any and all of those locations can be a good for seeing birds. Michigan, and nearby states and provinces, offer numerous opportunities for excellent spring birdwatching. Allegan State Game Area alone is reported to have 136 different bird species, while Metro Beach Park, on Lake St Clair, has been reported by birdwatchers to have 227 species.

That says nothing of Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, in Monroe County which is considered one of the top birding spots in the state – or Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, near Paradise in the Upper Peninsula, which is known to be one of the best in the country. Tens of thousands of birds arrive at Whitefish Point every spring during their migration north.

“Whitefish Point is a phenomenal concentration point for migrating birds,” writes Michigan DNR wildlife staff on the agency’s online wildlife viewing guide. “During spring and fall it is one of the best birding sites in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. Spring migration begins in mid-March and peaks in mid-May. During this time, up to 25,000 raptors pass by the Point, and as many as 3,000 in a single day!”

The bird observatory also hosts Michigan’s gateway event for birdwatchers every spring, called the Spring Fling. The three-day birdwatching festival draws a crowd. This year’s 26th annual event runs from April 25 to 27. It is the first of nine festivals this season. Three others are scheduled in fall.

Spring festivals are an excellent place to get started bird watching. Plan to bring a pair of binoculars, some rain gear, and a bird identification field guide. Many of the events offer guided tours, group socials and interesting workshops and speakers on topics from birding techniques to the plight of certain birds.

Other good places to see birds this spring can be found online at the DNR’s websitewhere it maintains its statewide wildlife viewing guide. The Michigan Audubon Society also owns 19 sanctuaries around the state where birdwatching is encouraged.

If you are thinking about getting into birding this year, check out the calendar of festivals and enjoy one, or more, this spring or summer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that more than two million Michigan residents are birdwatchers. You might be surprised by how much fun it is.

2014 Bird Watching Festival Calendar

25-27: 26th Annual Spring Fling, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. See:

26: 4th Annual Thornapple Woodpecker Festival, Middleville Village Hall.

Month of May: Keweenaw Migratory Bird Festival, Copper Harbor.
1-19: Festival of Birds 2013, Pointe Pelee National Park, Leamington Ontario, near Windsor. ee:

6-15: The Biggest Week in American Birding, Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Magee Marsh, Oak Harbor Ohio. See:

15-18: Tawas Point Birding Festival, Iosco County, a Michigan Audubon Signature Event. See

28-June 1: Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival. See

June 6-8: Cerulean Warbler Weekend, Barry County, a Michigan Audubon Signature Event, Otis Farm Bird Sanctuary. See

16: Birds, Blooms and Butterflies Festival at Dalhem Center, Jackson.

20-21: Lake Erie Metropark Hawkfest: For details call 734-379-5020.

11-12: CraneFest, Michigan Audubon Signature Event, Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary, Bellevue, Calhoun County. See

18: Cranes, Colors and Cabernet, Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Audubon Sanctuary. Jackson County. For details see:

Email Howard Meyerson at; follow him on his blog: The Outdoor Journal at and on Twitter


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