Birding on Mackinac Island

If you take a moment and stand still on Mackinac Island, you’ll probably hear a variety of sounds.

The sound of Mackinac Island horses clip-clopping by.

The sound of Mackinac Island bicycles whizzing past.

The sound of a cannon firing from Fort Mackinac.

The sound of water lapping up against the rocks.

If you listen closely, really closely, you just might be lucky enough to hear the sounds of birds nearby, too.

Michigan is a hotspot for birds and Mackinac Island is particularly interesting. As migrating birds make their way north in the spring and south in the fall, they often island hop across the Straits of Mackinac to get to their destination. Mackinac Island is one of the islands birds visit during migration, making it a special place for birds and birders alike!

An informational placard showing the variety of birds that can be seen and heard on Mackinac Island


Just as the landscapes and seasons on Mackinac Island differ, so do the birds. The birds found in the marina and along the coast will be significantly different than the birds found in the woods and ponds in the interior parts of Mackinac Island.

Another big factor to consider when birding is the season. The birds in the winter are very different than birds found in the summer.

Depending on the season, here are some of the birds you can expect to see on Mackinac Island:

  • Indigo Bunting
  • American Redstart
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Common Redpoll
  • Herring Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Blue Jay
  • Robin
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Mallard
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Snowy Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Bohemian Waxwing
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Ovenbird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Purple Martin

Birders visiting Mackinac Island will find many different species of birds including the Common Loon.


Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch

Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) has a bird counter stationed on Mackinac Island to count and observe migrating raptors. Since 2012, MSRW has conducted scientific research on migrating birds of prey as well as other non-raptor birds crossing the Straits of Mackinac. The MSRW count is held in Mackinaw City but many birds migrating up the coast of Lake Huron don’t even make it that far. Having an additional counter on Mackinac Island helps MSRW collect accurate data and numbers of migrating birds of prey.

Christmas Bird Count on Mackinac Island

If you’d like to participate in a bird count, then the Mackinac Straits Christmas Bird Count is for you! This annual event consists of volunteers spending a full day counting the quantity and species of birds in a 7.5-mile radius. Mackinac Island is included in the 7.5 miles and the data collected is submitted as a nationwide effort for bird surveys. A bird count is generally exhausting but imagine one where you don’t have a vehicle to get around!

A little green and yellow bird stands on a branch in the forest of Mackinac Island State Park


Listen and Pay Attention

If you want to bird on Mackinac Island, the best thing you can do is pay attention. When you slow down enough to listen and to watch, you might notice birds you haven’t noticed before. Sit on a bench and listen, notice the rustling in the trees or the brush below. You just might hear a woodpecker on a tree or a chickadee chatting nearby.

Places to Go

Grab a Mackinac Island map and explore the 70 miles of paths and trails. You’ll find ponds, boreal forest, pine trees, bogs, and limestone formations. The lakeshore and marina are a great place to look for water birds. And don’t forget about the ferry ride to Mackinac Island. You might just see something special on the ride over!

Things to Bring

You don’t need anything special for birding, it can be done anytime and anywhere (if you’re outside). However, it’s always helpful to bring a pair of binoculars or if you have it, a scope. A bird book will also help you identify birds while in the field. One other helpful tool is a camera. A camera can help you identify a bird later if you don’t have a bird book.

Birding Apps

Believe it or not, there are specific apps for birding! They can be extremely helpful when trying to identify a bird. eBird is a common app used by birders and will show you what species have been seen on Mackinac Island and when. There are also apps that can identify bird sounds, identify photos of birds, as well as identify birds based on habitat and characteristics noted from the field.


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