Birds of Michigan: What Are The Most Common Birds There?

birds of michigan

The Great Lakes state of Michigan is home to over 450 species of birds, according to the Michigan Birds Records Committee. Thanks to its sprawl of nature parks, wildlife reserves, and coastlines, not only does Michigan see massive inward migration each year, but it is also a place of permanent residence for a plethora of birds.

Here are some of the most common birds of Michigan you’re likely to find sitting in your backyard or on your balcony on a normal day.

American Black Duck


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The American black duck is easily confused with a mallard because they have nearly identical profiles. American black ducks are also known to flock with and breed with mallards.

However, American black ducks are larger and have mottled heads and pale grayish bodies. You can identify a black duck by the purple or blue speculum on its plumage underneath the wings.

They occupy the shallow wetlands of eastern North America and are usually in plain sight year-round. As they’re fairly common, the state of Michigan allows hunting them as game birds.

Mute Swan


The mute swan is probably the most elegant bird in existence and has been the subject of numerous Russian ballets and European fairy tales. Fun fact, they’re not actually native to Europe but were introduced to the Great Lakes of Michigan during the colonization era.

And since the climatic conditions were similar, they were able to thrive and grew in numbers. Finding a mute swan in North America isn’t too difficult. They’re usually all over nature parks and the Great Lakes. They may look pretty but can actually be pretty mean.

Never approach a swan on your own; they can be really aggressive when someone approaches their nest.

Red-Breasted Merganser


The red-breasted merganser is a species of diving duck with a menacing gaze and stride. These birds of Michigan are easily identified by their devilish red eyes, thin serrated bills, and messy hairs on the top of their heads. Red-breasted mergansers are also the fastest ducks alive and can reach an airspeed of 100 mph.

They’re also proficient at diving in order to find prey, even during extreme winter conditions. If you’re ever looking for one, you’ll find them in the boreal forest and saltwater wetlands, typically close to the coast. But avoid approaching them as they’re known to attack out of intimidation.

Common Loon


You might mistake a common loon for red-breasted merganser on account of their bright red eyes and matching color profile. The differences are subtle but very present. Common loons are basically the better-groomed, older brother of the red-breasted merganser. They also have a more distinctive pattern on their plumage.

Mergansers and loons share more in common than just their eyes though. They occupy the same habitat and are both excellent divers. Although in terms of elegance, the common loon would probably win. They are equally aggressive though, so always approach with caution if you’re trying to get a better look.

Great Black-Backed Gull


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The great black-backed gull is the largest member of the gull family with a wingspan of around 57.5 to 63 inches. That’s almost as tall as a middle schooler. It has been dubbed as “The King of the Atlantic Waterfront” by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for its aggressive hunting-scavenging skills.

They have a white body with slaty-black wings, thick pink legs, and a yellow bill with a curved front that’s speculated to be an adaptation for holding on to fish better.

Great black-backed gulls are also often referred to as pirates for their aggressively opportunistic behavior. They follow fishing boats to pick up leftover scraps, steal from other birds, and sometimes also prey on their eggs.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

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Iceland gulls are as white as doves and a rare sight. They frequently visit Lake Huron during the winter months for foraging. Despite their paleness, you can distinguish them from doves by their stalky pink legs and yellow beak.

Iceland gulls breed on the Arctic cliff edges and usually develop a bright pale body upon reaching adulthood but the plumage can vary a bit with climate.

If you’re ever looking for an Iceland gull, Iceland or the Arctic is your best bet. Otherwise, you might find them amongst a huddle or resting on the Atlantic or Pacific coastline during winters. They are not numerous, so finding one will require patience.

Common Tern


Common terns can, at times, be mistaken for gulls from a distance because they are also seabirds with strong migratory tendencies. Their plumage is pale grey overall with a black cap and their beaks are red with a black tip. The best time to spot them in Michigan is during the summers when fish are thriving.

Terns can detect ripple patterns from the sky and will dive into any water-body to catch fish, be it lakes, saltwater, fresh streams, or river basins. They have a very streamlined shape that allows them to generate momentum on their dives, possibly to stab fish with their beaks.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

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Caspian terns look exactly like common terns but are twice the size and have a less defined beak tip. Like common terns, they also breed in the Arctic circle or migrate towards the coastlines of North America in summers where they can also be found breeding. Birds don’t always wait for the right moment.

Caspian terns are colonial birds. You’ll often find them mixed with gulls and other scavenging bird species; however, they stand out by their size.

Piping Plover


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Piping plovers are an adorable, sparrow-sized, sand-colored species of shorebirds that can be found along the beaches of Michigan and many other parts of North America.

Adult piping plovers are distinguished by a black band that runs across their forehead, right between the eyes. They also have yellowish-orange legs that they’re quite adept at using for walking or sprinting.

Golden-Winged Warbler


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The golden-winged warbler is a rare and endangered species of warbler endemic to Southeastern Canada and the Appalachian mountain range from the northeast to the north-central United States.

Despite their declining population, however, the upper peninsula and northern half of the lower peninsula of Michigan have been blessed with their presence. They reside in the forests and swampy areas and are easily spotted by their bright gold wings and crown patches.

Warblers are about the size of a sparrow and are very nimble, so you’ll need to bring your patience to catch a good long sighting.

Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler

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Kirtland’s warbler is yet another near-threatened species of warbler that’s commonly referred to as “jack pine bird” by the locals in Michigan. This bird was named after Jared Potter Kirtland, a famous Probate judge, naturalist, and malacologist.

The Kirtland’s warbler is arguably the most sought-after bird in Michigan for its unique coloration. It has a bright yellow fuzzy little body with the same plumage as a pigeon’s neck on the back. Warblers are also songbirds, so if you ever want to catch a lullaby, you should visit their habitat in summer or spring during their prime mating season.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

The snowy owl looks like something out of a Harry Potter movie, with its snow-white body from head to tail and bright yellow eyes. They are remarkably intelligent birds. They’re also known for being aggressive and opportunistic predators. They prey on small mammals like squirrels, hares, and even smaller birds.

Most owls, including the snowy owl, are very territorial. They begin to vocalize sharp high-pitched hoots any time their territory is being approached. Snowy owls have also been known to attack humans, so they must always be observed from a distance and with stealth.

Northern Goshawk


Northern goshawks are among the most fearsome raptors in the world. They resemble falcons but are a bit larger and more brownish in color. Goshawks are revered for their flying and hunting skills.

They can maintain a horizontal speed of up to 38mph when pursuing prey and will keep chasing until the prey runs out of stamina, so there’s no escape. They fly at a high altitude, making it difficult to spot them unless they come down to find prey or rest.

Wild Turkey


Wild game birds like turkey are a common sighting throughout Michigan. Wild turkeys are native to North America and are popularly hunted as game birds, although they don’t taste as good as domesticated turkey.

Wild turkeys either come in white or black. Despite their dull appearances, turkeys are quite inquisitive and some say even make for good pets. But beware, they’re also gluttonous and sometimes won’t stop eating.

Sandhill Crane


Sandhill cranes are a species of crane native to North America and northeastern Siberia. Their name comes from the fact that they prefer to occupy marshy areas or wetlands on the edge of Nebraska’s sandhills. It’s common to spot a flock of sandhill cranes migrating to Michigan during spring or fall.

Sandhill cranes have a unique talent. They’re excellent dancers and use their body movements to express themselves. Their dance routine typically involves stretching their wings as far as they go, pumping their heads, and leaping gracefully.

A Few Parting Words

Bird photography can be an exciting hobby to nurture in a place like Michigan, which is home to so many birds including some critically endangered species. With this list, you should now be able to identify more of them.

The birds of Michigan are the landscape’s gift to its inhabitants. They are stunning, for one thing, and it always raises your spirits to watch them gliding gleefully, eating out of a feeder, and especially in a birdbath.

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