News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Millions of birds are crossing Michigan to head south for the winter

Cackling geese migrating
Dennis Donohue
Adobe Stock
Cackling geese migrating.

Hundreds of millions of birds are crossing over Michigan as part of their annual migration south. These travelers include shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl and songbirds, some of which can fly hundreds of miles without stopping.

Michigan rests between two major "fly-ways" (essentially bird migration highways), and more than 380 different species pass through the state every fall.

It's estimated that many migratory bird species have about a 50% chance of living through a given year, and mortality rates are highest during migration periods. But experts say people can help give these birds a “fighting chance” on their journey.

Chad Machinski is a conservation manager with the Michigan Audubon Society. He said residents can reduce confusion for nocturnal birds by keeping non-essential lights off at night.

Light pollution can draw birds into urban areas, which aren't always the best habitat for them," Machinski said. "There may not be a lot of food sources, or it increases their chances of running into windows.”

Machinski said migration is also an energy-intensive process, so planting native shrubs can provide a source of food and shelter for these feathered travelers.

"They need habitat to either begin their journey or during their journey to consume berries, seeds and any lingering insects to provide the energy source to make these long-distance flights," Machinski said.

Different bird species migrate in waves from July through November. Shorebirds typically migrate earlier, followed by songbirds and raptors, with waterfowl often leaving later in the season.

According to BirdCast, several species of warbler, the green heron and the eastern wood-pewee, among other species, are actively migrating.

The state’s nightly crossings peaked Sept. 8 with an estimated 16.6 million birds migrating in one night, but the season is in full swing in September and October.

Nearly 178 million birds have crossed Michigan so far, and numbers historically level off around 350 million, according to BirdCast estimates.

Machinski said fall migration presents a chance to spot unexpected birds passing through areas where they're not typically found.

"There's no species in particular I’d say to look out for – [I would say] to just always look because you really don't know what's going to show up,” Machinski said. “… the more you see birds, the more you're going to be captivated by them, and the more you're going to want to learn how to support them.”

Visit BirdCast to see live data on Michigan bird crossings or national migration forecasts. For more information on migration counts and research in Michigan, check out the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.
Related Content