Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an ideal destination for birding. What makes this area so perfect for birdwatching is the changing seasons, variety of habitats, the extensive shoreline along three of the Great Lakes and the wealth of publicly accessible land. The area is so ideal that around 400 distinct bird species have been spotted according to the Field Checklist of Birds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula put out by the USDA Forest Service. Many of these bird species call the U.P. home year-round; however, during the migrations in mid-spring and early-to-mid-fall, birders have the opportunity to see a variety of species rarely seen at other times of the year. 

The reason that spring and fall are the best times for birding in the Upper Peninsula is that the migration routes are strongly influenced by the Great Lakes. Many birds use the lakes as flyways and follow along the shoreline. Great numbers of waterbirds can be viewed traveling along or over the lakes. Songbirds are often seen in large numbers near the shoreline and surrounding forests. Hawks, along with a variety of other birds, often travel over the land along the shoreline because there is greater lift and they can more effortlessly soar. 

Whitefish Point is the Premier Migration Hot-Spot in Michigan

Whitefish Point, located 11 miles north of Paradise, is a globally important area for birds because the peninsula is a natural migration route. The way that the point juts into Lake Superior creates a corridor that funnels migrating birds through the Great Lakes region. Additionally, it is an ideal location for the birds to stop over and replenish their energy. Because of this, every fall and spring, thousands of birds pass through the area. The greatest number of species sightings in Michigan have been recorded here.

During the spring and fall, significant numbers of loons, grebes, sandhill cranes, gulls and ducks can be observed from the beach at Whitefish Point. Along the lakeshore and surrounding patches of boreal forest, birders are likely to spot large numbers of songbirds. The area is also well-known for owls, including the northern saw-whet and long-eared owls, and though not common, it may be possible to spot a boreal, great gray or Northern hawk owl. If you are lucky, you may see some species that strayed from their normal migratory routes. Examples of rare sightings include Mississippi Kite, Lewis’s Woodpecker and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. The region is famous for providing unique viewing opportunities; you never know what you might see. 

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

Whitefish Point is home to the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, which has been diligently documenting the migrations since 1979. The observatory conducts counts of migrating ducks, geese, loons, grebes, raptors and a variety of other birds. Most years, visitors can enjoy and participate in events including lectures and field trips organized by the observatory. Those interested can check wpbo.org for updates on the status of future events.

Birding Tips & Etiquette

  • To make the most out of your birdwatching trip, you should plan to wake early, be prepared to sit or stand still, be quiet and wait patiently. 

  • Buy a guide or download an app to help you identify birds. 

  • Bring binoculars or a spotting scope to give you the ability to see further and identify unique details.

  • Observe different areas of the lake and landscape because different birds prefer different types of terrain to fly over or stop at to rest. 

  • If you are hoping to spot a rare species of bird, be sure to go out after storms. The winds can transport birds long distances outside of their normal migration routes. 

  • Be sure to use your ears as well as your eyes. By learning bird calls/songs, you can identify birds in the area even before you see them. 

  • Keep a record of your sightings. Detailed information can help you learn seasonal patterns and at which locations you are most likely to see certain species again. 

  • Take photos! If you cannot identify a bird at the time you see it, a photo will allow you to better identify the bird at a later time. Additionally, we love seeing your photos, so please tag us in any social posts #uptravel. 

  • Be respectful of the birds and give them plenty of space. Migration is strenuous, and we do not want to add any stress to the birds or interfere with rest or feeding. 

  • If you spot a bird while driving along the road, be sure to pull far enough off the road to keep from obstructing traffic.

  • Share information with other birders; let's be sure to help each other make the most out of sighting opportunities.

Plan and Book Your Stay in Advance

There are a wealth of wonderful locations for birding throughout the Upper Peninsula. Although Whitefish Point is the premier location for bird migration, many other areas provide wonderful birding opportunities. Additionally, if you cannot visit during the migration season, don’t worry! Many birds make the Upper Peninsula their home year-round. For a list of other prime locations, be sure to check out our birding page.  

Because the migration season is so popular, you will want to book your stay in advance and consider traveling to and staying at several  locations during your trip. You can find a detailed list of accommodations on our lodging page. Check out our breweries, wineries and restaurants, too. A delicious meal and locally crafted beverage after a delightful day of birding will make your visit even more enjoyable.

Share with Us

We would love to see your favorite spring scenes and adventures! Use our hashtag #uptravel for an opportunity to be featured on our social media, website or in our marketing materials. You can also upload your photos to our Spring Photo Crowdriff Collector below.