Outdoor & Recreation
Midwest Bird Migration, Shows
How You Can Get Involved
CR News Bird Migration Conclusion
Be apart of this global natural wonder by growing the right plants
Annually migrant birds need Michigan residents’ support by turning off lights, planting food and preserving habitats they need to make this arduous journey.
Many of the 47 million people known as birders in the United States are actively helping birds on their migrant journeys. During the fall bird migration, it is a great time to get out in Michigan’s wetlands, prairies and grasslands to see these various, magnificent birds make their journey south. Most active migration months are September, October and November.
Real-time and forecasted maps on the annual bird migration.
Real-time analysis maps show intensities of actual nocturnal bird migration as detected by the US weather surveillance radar network between local sunset to sunrise. All graphics are relative to the Eastern time zone. When present, the red line moving east to west represents the timing of local sunset, the yellow line represents the timing of local sunrise. Areas with lighter colors experienced more intense bird migration. Orange arrows show directions to which birds flew. Green dots represent radar locations for which data are available; red dots represent radar locations with no data available. Note that many radars in mountainous areas (e.g. the Rockies) have obstructions that restrict radar coverage, providing the appearance of no migration where migration may be occurring.
Brighter colors indicates a higher migration traffic rate (MTR) expressed in units birds/km/hour. The migration traffic rate indicates the number of birds per hour that fly across a one kilometer line transect on the earth’s surface oriented perpendicular to the direction of movement of the birds.
Dokter, A. M. Year/s of live migration map image. BirdCast, live migration map; 10/17/ 2022. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. birdcast.info/live-migration-maps. Date/s of access or download.
Store Bought Bird Food Works:
As birds migrate, what food do they need?
Migrating birds require foods high in protein and low in fat. To help our feathered friends have a successful migration, we should fill our feeders and plant our yards with shrubs and seeds that contain higher amounts of protein. Try hanging some suet feeders stocked with suet cakes that contain high-protein ingredients such as shelled peanuts, sunflower kernels, shelled pumpkin seeds, rendered beef suet, pecans, and pistachios.
Types of Birds Flying Through Michigan:
The great bird migration begins in September and ends in November with a variety of birds passing through Michigan.
Fall is a magical time here in Michigan as waterfowl, shorebirds, waterbirds, songbirds, and raptors head south to their wintering grounds. Michigan is a particularly special place during this time of year because we lie at the intersection of the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, two migration “superhighways” that bring over 380 bird species through the state each fall!
Here’s what to expect over the next few months in Michigan:
- September: Waterfowl, mainly dabbling ducks, like Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and American Widgeon also head south, along with gulls (including some rare species), songbirds (particularly Blue Jays, warblers, and thrushes), and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
- October: Diving ducks arrive this month, like Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck, and Canvasback, as well as our northern finches and sparrows, like Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Pine Siskins, and potentially Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and Crossbills, if we experience an “irruption” year. Northern breeders, such as Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, American Pipits, and Horned Larks, start to move south. Warbler and thrush migration starts to wind down. Warblers still on the move this month include Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler (which actually peak this month), and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Hawk diversity increases.
- November: Diving ducks, sea ducks (such as Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks), rare gulls (like Iceland Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Franklin’s Gull), and sparrows continue to move through the state. Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings travel in peak numbers. Northern owls, such as Great Gray Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl and Boreal Owl, make their way into the UP. Rough-legged Hawks and Golden Eagles also move through the state in decent numbers.
Migrant Bird Habitats: Audubon Great Lakes
From nectar to seeds, migrant birds need food for their travel
Insect and seed
Some native prairie plants to consider (for full sun):
- Flowers: Native prairie asters, many goldenrods*, coneflowers, sunflowers, blazing stars, prairie dock, compass plant, rosinweed, spurge, vervain, black- brown-eyed susan, hyssop, Culvers’s root
- Grasses: little bluestem, prairie dropseed, sideoats grama, porcupine grass
*Goldenrods do not cause allergies – ragweed does. There are many lovely goldenrods – however – beware – do not plant tall goldenrod, solidago altissima, in your garden – you will never get rid of it.
If you do not have the full sun that a prairie needs, a native woodland garden will also serve.
- Flowers: native woodland asters, goldenrods, sunflowers, joe pye weed, cup plants (beware – these last two tend to take over), ferns, brown-eyed susan.
- Grasses: bottlebrush, wild rye, woodland brome
Fruit – eaters:
- Viburnums: Arrowwood, nannyberry, withered, blackhaw
- Virginia creeper, wild grape
- Winterberry – acid soils
- Red cedar
- Alternate-leaved dogwood
- Northern mountain ash
- Illinois Rose
Hummingbirds need nectar in fall as well. Orange jewelweed is a great favorite of theirs. A bit of a garden pest, it takes over bare areas but yields easily to cultivation. Blazing star, lobelia and turtlehead may be easier to control.
Man-made lights cause problems for migrating birds.
Birds migrating at night are attracted to artificial sources of light, particularly during periods of inclement weather. As birds approach the lights of tall buildings, communications towers, lighthouses, floodlit obstacles, and other lit structures, they become vulnerable to collisions with the structures themselves.
Once inside a beam of light, birds are reluctant to fly out of the lighted area into the dark, and often continue to flap around in the beam of light until they drop to the ground with exhaustion. A secondary threat resulting from their aggregation at lighted structures is their increased vulnerability to predation.
Reducing building lighting during migration seasons can drastically reduce the hazard of building collisions. In 2006, the Detroit Audubon Society initiated Safe Passage Great Lakes. In partnership with Michigan Audubon, this program encourages building owners and occupants to turn off lights above the fifth floor, and take other simple steps during the peak migration seasons of mid-March through May and mid-August through October to reduce the danger as migrants pass through. Major cities in our region including Chicago and Toronto, as well as New York City, Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, and many others, have started similar programs with demonstrated records of success.
- Detroit River
Birds following the Great Lakes south on migration get funneled down the Detroit River corridor every fall. You can look for bobbing rafts of hundreds of ducks on the water, a steady stream of hawks and eagles following the shoreline from the air, and songbirds dropping into brushy thickets looking for a snack for the road. With plenty of state parks, game areas, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, and city parks, you’re sure to find your new favorite fall birding destination.
- Great Lakes
Head to the big water in the fall to watch waterbirds fish their way south. Species you may spot include long-tailed ducks, common loons, scoters and glaucous gulls. A spotting scope is helpful if you’re looking to find birds on the Great Lakes; they’ll often be far enough offshore that it’s difficult to get good looks with binoculars. What you will be able to find with binoculars are the hawks, vultures and eagles following the shoreline south. And keep an eye on coastal marshes for songbirds and shorebirds.
- Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch
Visit the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch crew on the north side of the bridge to look for and learn about the hawks, falcons and eagles passing by during the day. Head across the bridge to the dark sky preserve at Wilderness State Park for the night and listen for the calls of night migrating songbirds.
- Muskegon Wastewater Facility
As one of Michigan’s Wetland Wonders, it’s a great place to stop in the fall and look for massive flocks of some birds you’d be lucky to find elsewhere in Michigan. During migration large numbers of waterfowl, especially northern shovelers and ruddy ducks, can be found in the ponds. In late fall and winter you may see snowy owls and snow buntings, along with Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, plovers, sandpipers and dozens of other species.
- Tundra Swans in Saginaw Bay
The two species of swans most Michiganders know are our native trumpeter swans and the invasive mute swan. But did you know a third species of swan visits our state every year? Tundra swans on migration from their breeding grounds in Canada to their wintering grounds along the mid-Atlantic coastline stop for a rest and a snack in and around Saginaw Bay. If you visit at the right time, you can find hundreds to thousands of these large white birds picking food from harvested cropland around the Thumb or loafing in the bay. A tundra swan flies through the air
- Sandhill Crane Migration
Every autumn in Michigan, a migration of thousands of Sandhill Cranes takes place in the southern Lower Peninsula. Head south to Jackson and Washtenaw counties where Sandhill Cranes spend the months of October and early November in Michigan marshlands.
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