There are over 400 birds in Michigan, many of which are year-round. But that number includes misidentified species or birds that stop in for a visit.
Many birds are sexually dimorphic. The males and females may exhibit different coloring or sizes. This dimorphism can often lead to misidentification, especially for novice birders.
Birdwatching can be tricky since some birds don’t sit still long! But, if you’ve got patience, it can be oh-so-rewarding! Especially if you catch a mama bird feeding her babies or a mating pair falling in love.
The more time you observe birds in your environment, the better you’ll spot different traits. Or, you can simply enjoy them!
Backyard birds can be found around your backyard’s birdfeeder. You can also find them hopping around trees in the park or flying through the neighborhood.
You don’t need a special birding set-up to spot these feathered friends. Sometimes, pausing for a few moments and looking out the window is enough to see them.
Water and shorebirds are exactly like they sound! They make their home near the water or come by for a snack.
These birds are the ready-to-watch variety, as a trip to the shore guarantees a sighting. If there’s water nearby, look for these birds to make an appearance.
Here is an abbreviated but comprehensive list of 40 commonly observed Michigan birds. Happy birding!
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1. American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
The official state bird of Michigan is arguably one of the most recognizable birds. The male American robin has a dark head with a perky yellow bill. It’s recognizable for its beautiful brick-red belly and gray-brown wings.
The female has a duller brown belly, and the juvenile bears a spotted cinnamon belly. All flash white spots on the tail when in flight.
These 10-inch (25 cm) birds bounce around lawns and other grassy areas. They use their strong, grabby beaks to poke in the soil for worms and small insects.
They have varied vocalizations, from a cheery song to a quick tut and a wispy call when in flight. Once captured for food in the South, they’re now protected in their migratory range.
2. Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
The evening grosbeak is one of the largest varieties of finch, coming in at 8 inches (20 cm). They’re found in trees and woody areas, where they feed on berries and seeds.
They boast vivid yellow plumage, with a bright white patch on their dark wings. Females are duller and smaller in size but still have distinct white patches on their wings.
They breed in mixed woods and overwinter in Michigan. Their bright coloring is a welcome sight in the stark white snow!
Thanks to their strong beaks, they eat many seeds and nuts other birds can’t crack open. Because of this, they are easy to attract to a birdfeeder. They are not songbirds but do have a distinct peeping call.
3. Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)
The warbling vireo is a chunky songbird spotted near forested water features. They are 5.5 inches (14 cm) with gray, olive-gray, or green bodies, depending on the season. They have pale yellow flanks and off-white bellies.
They’re primarily insectivores but will eat berries when migrating south.
They make deep, cup-shaped nests in forked branches, where they lay their clutches of three to five eggs per season. Their nests are a favorite spot for the brown-headed cowbird to parasitize.
The vireo will then raise the babies as though they were hers. Like many other songbirds, the warbling vireo has a wide variety of calls, songs, and chirps.
4. White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
The white-breasted nuthatch is one of the most widespread nuthatch birds in Michigan. At 5.75 inches (15 cm), it’s also the largest of the nuthatch family Sittidae. They have white underbellies and bluish-gray bodies with chestnut brown in the vent.
Males have bold black caps. They build nests in cavities above ground, where they will lay a clutch of three to ten eggs per season.
They’re commonly found amongst oaks and conifers, snacking on nuts and seeds. Like other nuthatches, they wedge nuts and seeds into crevices. They use the leverage to aid in prying them open and storing food in trees for later.
These vocal birds live year-round in Michigan. Their habitats are being diminished as the dead trees they nest in are removed from forests.
5. Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
One of the largest titmice, the tufted titmouse is 6.25 inches (16 cm).
They are gray with white underbellies and reddish-brown sides. They have a distinct crest on their heads, with the males displaying a black bar across the base of their beaks. Other than this marking, the males and females appear similar.
They build nests in crevices, where they lay speckled eggs in clutches of five to eight per season.
They can be seen darting upside down on trees, searching for insects. They also enjoy seeds and nuts and can be enticed to a birdfeeder with suet and sunflower seeds.
Nest raiders like snakes, raccoons, cats, and larger birds often predate on these birds.
6. Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)
The scarlet tanager are found in deciduous forests and wooded suburban areas. Their habitat is currently threatened by climate change and city spread. Due to this, their range has shifted north in search of cooler temperatures.
They are one of several birds that change color to attract mates. They’re 7 inches (18 cm) with yellow-green coats and dark wings. In breeding season, the males’ plumage shifts to bright red and black.
Each season, the bright plumage of the male is a silent display used to court his mate. Once paired up, they build a cup-shaped nest in a tree, where two to five eggs are laid.
7. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
The song sparrow ranges from 4.25 to 6.75 inches (13 to 17 cm), depending on the subspecies. They have long, rounded tails and speckled, striped brown and white bodies.
There are many regional differences in size and shade among their species. However, they do share one similarity, which is the pumping of their tail in flight.
Song sparrows feed on insects in summer and grass and weed seeds in the winter. They nest near marshy areas, where they build their nests low to the ground in shrubs. These nests bear 3 to 6 eggs, which are tended to for nearly a month.
They are very territorial, and their streaked plumage provides excellent camouflage from predators.
8. Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)
The common redpoll gets its name from its red cap or “poll”. They are 5.25 inches (13 cm) with black chins and brown and white streaks along their backs and bellies.
The males show off with rosy breasts and sides. These tiny birds have an incredible tolerance for cold. They’re often spotted stocking up at the birdfeeder in winter.
They aren’t as common in Michigan as they are further north. Though they are seen foraging for seeds and nuts, stashing them in their cheeks as they flit about.
They nest in low-lying shrubs and care for more than five eggs at a time. They are not territorial, and many nests can be found close together.
9. Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca)
The male blackburnian warbler is a beauty with fiery orange plumage at its throat. Bearing white wing patches and black backs, these birds are easy to spot among the treetops. The females tend to have paler throats but are still quite colorful.
Once a male attracts a partner, they build a nest, and he tends to the female while she incubates their eggs. After hatching, they take turns caring for their young.
Blackburnian warblers migrate great distances, traveling to the far reaches of the Andes. They return in warmer weather to forage insects and begin the cycle again. Their mating call can be heard for miles.
10. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
The black-capped chickadee is a welcome sight to your backyard birdfeeder year-round. Their cute little black cap and bib contrast their cream and white bellies.
They’re adorable little fluff balls that bounce around for seeds. During winter, they puff up to stay warm. They’re usually seen in large groups, hopping to and fro in search of a snack. You might also catch them stashing food away in nooks and crannies.
They have a variety of songs and calls and emit cheerful peeps while poking around for food. It’s hard not to smile when you see a flock of black-capped chickadees.
Pairs excavate their nest holes and tend to their young together. While she incubates, the male brings food to the mother and the babies when hatched.
11. Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
The largest bird so far on our list, the common grackle is 12.5 inches (32 cm). These big foragers appear black or dark brown from a distance. They show off an iridescent blend of greens and purples in the right light.
They can be found in mixed flocks in open areas, marshes, parks, and backyards, picking for food.
These birds have varied diets. They can eat everything from bugs to small rodents and berries to human food scraps. Their omnivorous appetite allows them to adapt to crowded habitats. This earns them a reputation as a nuisance.
They’re threatened by humans invading their natural habitats and destroying their food sources.
12. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
The house sparrow is the most common songbird across the States.
It is 6.25 inches (16 cm) with a gray and chestnut head, black bib, and bill. They have variegated brown and black wings with a white bar. Females are paler with a tawny eyebrow puff.
House sparrows are successful foragers. They survive in cities and suburban areas where other birds cannot. They’ve adapted to living alongside humans and take advantage of their crumbs and litter. This hardiness makes them very successful, and they will likely continue to thrive.
13. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
The largest of the crow family, the American crow is another success story in the bird world. Despite many attempts to eradicate them, crows continue to thrive alongside humans.
Neither urban sprawl nor habitat decline has slowed them down. These large 17.5-inch (45 cm) black birds have a fan-shaped tail and distinct caw! This distinguishes them from their larger cousin, the common raven.
All members of the corvid family are knowledgeable and opportunistic. Crows eat practically anything they can find. Even if it takes some problem-solving to get it into their mouths. Some observers have seen them dropping mollusks to crack open their shells to eat them.
They are very social, communal birds that often form large groups to roost. These groups, known as murders, can be tens of thousands of birds.
14. American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
This bright yellow and black is a familiar sight at the backyard feeder. A 5-inch (13 cm) beauty, the goldfinch is a favorite of birders across the country. It has a lively vocabulary of twitters and trills that brings joy to every season.
Goldfinch forage in flocks, pecking around for the seeds of weeds and grasses. They also enjoy the buds of trees and maple sap. They build waterproof nest cups and have four to six eggs per season. Both parents tend to their young, with the males taking over feeding duties over time.
15. European Starling (Sturnis vulgaris)
The European starling has a reputation as a pest and a nuisance. But this 8.5-inch (22 cm) iridescent bird is a testament to tenacity and adaptability.
Introduced in the 1890s, they established dominance over native birds across the continent. They feed in flocks and are often seen en masse over fields and plains.
They are a beautiful and unique species. However, their sheer numbers and ability to wreak havoc on crops is a developing issue.
They enjoy eating seeds, insects, seedlings, and fruit. They’re known to decimate new crops in a short amount of time.
Starlings breed twice a year. This is the only time when they are not flocked up. During this time, the males mimic other bird calls with remarkable accuracy.
16. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
A very loud and colorful guest at the birdfeeder, the blue jay is one of the most recognized birds. It has a mohawk-like blue crest, striking blue plumage, and black stripes across its body and wings.
Pair its appearance with its loud “jay jay jay” call, and there’s no doubt who is munching all the seeds in the backyard.
These birds can get aggressive and pick on smaller birds. This is especially true when food is involved. They eat nuts and seeds and will stash food in trees and holes in the ground. They also eat insects, frogs, small rodents, and baby birds.
They lay four to five eggs in a high nest, where both parents tend to the eggs and hatchlings.
17. Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
The red-bellied woodpecker was once isolated to the southeast. Now, it’s been moving north to establish a new territory.
These beautiful 9.25-inch (24 cm) birds have black and white striped backs and wings. They also bear creamy-colored breasts. Females have a red nape and a soft red patch on the belly. Males have a red nape and crown.
Like other woodpeckers, this species uses its hard beak to hammer into trees and peck out insects. They also bore holes in trees that become nesting hides. The male will create several holes, and the female will choose the one she likes best.
In these holes, she can lay four to six eggs which both parents will incubate. The parents continue to care for their young for up to six weeks after hatching.
18. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
The smallest woodpecker in the U.S., the downy woodpecker is only 6.75 inches (17 cm). It boasts a white back, black and white barred wings, and a red spot on the head of the male.
They have smaller beaks than most other woodpeckers. However, this doesn’t hinder their namesake abilities.
This little woodpecker enjoys feasting on a variety of insects. They will perform upside-down acrobatics to get their tasty favorites.
They nest in tree holes high up from the ground. Here, both parents incubate their eggs and care for the youngsters.
19. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
The northern cardinal is a familiar and welcome visitor to any backyard. The males boast bright, bold red plumage with a striking black face, long crest, and stocky red bill. The females are buff-brown with red-tinged wings.
They’re also known for their lively calls and melodic songs. They sing cheerful notes year-round, bringing joy to those that hear them.
They feast on insects, berries, and seeds, favoring sunflower seeds in birdfeeders. They have prolific broods, often hatching and raising young up to four times a year.
20. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
The pink swath of feathers beneath the head is a distinguishing feature of the mourning dove. It also boasts black spots on its otherwise pale gray buff body and wings.
Mourning doves are a common sight in open country and human habitats. In fact, they’re the most common bird in the U.S.
The mourning dove is very prolific, raising up to six broods yearly, more than any other native bird! Both parents feed their young “pigeon milk” or “crop milk.”
Despite its name, the “milk” isn’t milk-like at all, but the regurgitated liquid in their crops. It must be tasty, though, as nestlings leave the nest and hang out nearby to continue being fed for up to two weeks.
21. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)
The eastern kingbird is a migratory visitor and the only kingbird in the east.
It is 8.5 inches (22 cm) with a black head, dark gray back, and black tail. They may have a soft gray floof across the chest and a seldom-seen orange-red crown.
Eastern kingbirds are entertaining to watch as they flit about catching insects. In fact, their diet is primarily insects, partaking in the occasional fruit.
Michigan is their breeding ground, where they build their nests high above the ground. These are sometimes in bizarre places, such as fenceposts and electricity towers.
They lay three to four eggs, and both parents will feed and care for their young for more than a month after hatching.
22. Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
The orchard oriole isn’t very common in Michigan. However, its breeding range spreads further north as temperatures rise.
The adult male is 7.25 inches (18cm) with a deep chestnut body, black head, and wings. The female has an olive green back, a yellow body, and black wings. Their smaller size and lack of orange coloring distinguish them from other orioles.
They prefer to nest and forage in groves of trees, hence their name. This species typically eats insects, nectar, and berries.
Orchard orioles create shallow hanging nests where they lay four to five eggs. Both parents feed their young for several weeks after hatching.
23. Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
The indigo bunting is a regular sight along rural roadsides and brushy pastures. They may not be often spotted in populated areas, however. But if you’re enjoying a country getaway, look for these beauties.
These 5.5-inch (14 cm) deep blue beauties forage insects and berries amongst the shrubs and trees. They prefer building low, open nests in shrubs or weeds.
The males may have more than one partner within their territory. The females do most of the rearing of the youngsters, and they can brood up to two times a year.
24. Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)
The small cerulean warbler is a bird in trouble. This little blue and white bird is only 4.75 inches (12 cm), and its habitat is rapidly declining.
It doesn’t help that they often fall prey to the invasive cowbird, who lays its eggs in the warbler nest. The babies then take food from the warbler chicks and may push them from the nest itself.
They forage for insects high in trees. They have generally been difficult to study due to their elusive habits. Another obstacle is that their habitat for breeding and migrating is becoming scarce.
25. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
The brown-headed cowbird doesn’t have the best reputation. And for good reason. They are most known for their parasitic behavior. They do not build their own nests or care for their own young. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other, smaller birds.
The eggs hatch in the foster’s nest where the nestlings take over. Sometimes, they boot the native babies before they’re even ready.
They lay several dozen eggs during the breeding season, taking care of none. These birds are responsible for the decline of many other native species.
It is a large bird of 7.5 inches (19cm) in length. The males are metallic green-black with brown heads. The females are gray-brown with pale brown undersides.
26. Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinenis)
What the gray catbird lacks in appearance, it makes up for in personality. They have animated behaviors, flitting excitedly amongst the undergrowth and in gardens. They feed on insects they find by flicking leaves aside with their bills.
Compared to other birds on this list, they’re a bit lackluster with dark gray bodies and black caps. They also have a chestnut patch beneath their tails.
They’re known to have various vocalizations. This includes the cat-like mewing which earned it its name.
They prefer building their nests in dense shrubs. They’re also one of the few birds to fight back against the parasitic cowbird. If a cowbird lays eggs in its nest, the catbird punctures the eggs and kicks them out!
27. Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
The snow bunting gets its name from its snowy white plumage accented by black wings and backs.
In the winter, flocks of snow buntings look like snowflakes against blue skies. Their colors change according to the season. They become more mottled with brown when mating.
These birds winter in Michigan. They then travel to the great northern expanse of the tundra during spring.
Their diet consists of seeds and insects. Sometimes they eat tiny crustaceans on the shoreline. Instead of flying and catching food in flight, they forage for food along the ground.
28. Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
The short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl. They’re 15 inches (38 cm) with a flat, tawny framed face, streaked belly, and spotted back. They are varying shades of brown with black patches on their wings.
These owls are active before dark, making them easy owls to spot. They hunt rodents in open, treeless areas and are fond of voles and mice.
They hunt by flying low and swooping in on their prey. Those great talons and sharp beaks are all the tools they need to grab tasty treats.
Short-eared owls nest low to the ground, in a shallow depression in the soil. When the owlets are ready, they walk out of the nest on foot and then learn to fly after.
29. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
The great horned owl is a medium-sized owl with a widespread habitat across the States. This owl is 22 inches (56 cm) with a stocky body, prominent ear tufts, and a black, brown, and white body.
It is known as a mighty and aggressive nocturnal hunter. It regularly takes down large prey like rabbits, skunks, and hawks. They’re great at swooping in on their prey with silent wings and massive talons.
They use the abandoned nests of other large birds instead of creating their own. They lay two to three eggs in a clutch and tend to their young for several months.
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Water & Shore Birds
30. Bald Eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus)
The iconic mascot of the United States is the majestic-looking bald eagle. This large bird of prey has a wingspan of up to 90 inches (229 cm) with a distinct white head, white tail, and yellow beak. It has a massive brown body and strong yellow feet with deadly talons.
Often regarded as an agile hunter, it is an opportunistic feeder. Its diet consists of fish and small mammals, mostly carrion. They also steal prey from other large raptors.
Their nests are huge, high above the ground in trees or manmade structures, made by both parents. This nest will be their home for many years. Bald eagles lay two eggs, and their young are tended to by both parents.
The classic sounds of the bald eagle are actually the red-tailed hawk. Eagle calls are closer to squeaks and squeals.
31. Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
A delightful summer sight at the lakeshore, the blue-winged teal is a small 15.5-inch (39 cm) duck.
Males have a violet gray head with a white crescent on each side. Females lack the colorful head but share the blue forewing that is their namesake.
They prefer shallow freshwater marshes and ponds. There they skim the surface for seeds and other plant matter. Sometimes, they also snack on snails or crustaceans.
They nest in shallow depressions on the ground, often far from the water. There they lay 9 to 13 eggs. Young teals are often on their own before they can fly.
32. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
When you think of ducks, the mallard is likely the image you have in your head. It is also known as the most prolific and abundant duck in the world. But most importantly, the mallard is a year-round inhabitant of Michigan.
The males have an iconic metallic green head and neck with a yellow bill. Their white bodies bear a chestnut breasts and bright blue patches on their wings. Females have mottled brown faces and bodies with black and orange bills.
They live in park ponds, water features, lakes, and marshes. They feed on plants and seeds, tadpoles, insects, and fish. Their varied diet shows why it is harmful to feed ducks bread. This is largely because bread can’t provide them the nutrients they need.
33. American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)
The American woodcock looks a lot like a sandpiper. But instead of salty shores, they live in moist woodlands and brushy swamps.
The woodcock is a squat, chunky bird with giant eyes set high on their heads. They are 11 inches (28 cm) with mottled brown bodies, rich tawny bellies, and gray underwings.
They have flexible bills that probe into the soft soil. The vibrating motion of these bills stirs up their food. Their particular favorites are earthworms and insect larva.
The females are known to raise the young on their own. The young birds are completely independent at five weeks.
34. Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocax auritus)
The double-crested cormorant was almost wiped out by DDT and other deadly pesticides. Thankfully, the government banned these damaging chemicals. This allowed these beautiful birds to make a strong comeback.
With its iconic resting wingspan pose, the double-crested cormorant is easy to spot. They are large 32-inch (81 cm) black birds with giant 52-inch (132 cm) wingspans! They have large rounded, orange-yellow throat pouches year-round.
They are fishing birds, and dive deep in the water, propelled by their webbed feet. They also forage the surface for frogs and crustaceans.
They nest in large platforms of sticks and debris, where they lay three to four eggs. Both parents tend to their young, which are independent at around ten weeks.
35. Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
The lesser scaup is another duck with a widespread North American range. It is a migratory visitor to Michigan.
It is 16.5 inches (42 cm) with bright yellow eyes and a gray beak. Males have dark, glossy, iridescent heads. They bear white bellies and gray dappled backs and wings. Females are shades of brown with a bright white patch at the base of their beaks.
This diving duck enjoys inland lakes and bays, where they will flock in the hundreds. They feed on mollusks, including zebra mussels. They also eat plant materials such as pondweeds and water grasses.
They lay 9-11 eggs in a shallow depression hidden by vegetation. After hatching, the offspring are independent and ready to fly in about three months.
36. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Michigan is one of the few North American states the mute swan calls home.
The graceful and majestic mute swan is a 60-inch (152 cm) long-necked beauty. The males are white with a black knob at the base of their orange beaks. The females are browner, with darker beaks. Both swim with arched wings and an elegant S-curve to their necks.
They eat plant material, often destroying aquatic vegetation. They also eat tadpoles and small fish.
They create large mound-shaped nests where they lay five to seven eggs. Both parents tend to the young who ride on their backs. They often spend their first winter with the family unit.
37. Common Loon (Gavia immer)
The loud yodeling call of the common loon is the sound of summer in the Great Lakes.
These large 32-inch water birds have colorful breeding plumage. They bear dark green heads, black and white bodies, a black beak, and red eyes. In winter, their plumage and beaks are much more subdued.
The common loon is a diving bird and an agile hunter. It feeds on small fish, leeches, frogs, and crustaceans. Sometimes, it snacks on pondweeds and algae.
They sing to each other in a courtship ritual, repeatedly dipping their beaks in the water. They lay their clutches of two eggs in nests hidden by vegetation and care for their young for about ten weeks.
38. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Another bird almost killed off by DDT, the osprey is making an incredible comeback.
A brown and white fishing hawk with notable calls, the osprey is a protected favorite. It is a large bird of prey of 22 to 25 inches (56 to 64 cm). They have large talons and a mullet-like swoop of feathers at the back of their head.
They are incredible hunters that fly over bodies of water, searching for fish to dive down upon. They swoop down and grab their prey with their fierce talons. They then carry their feast back to their large nests.
These giant nests are built high above the ground, often on manmade structures. They return to their nests year after year, where they will lay clutches of three eggs. The parents share feeding duties until the youngster is ready to fly away in roughly two months.
39. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
The killdeer is a widespread inhabitant of both shorelines and pastures. They nest in a shallow divot on the ground, laying four eggs in the open. They perform dramatic performances to protect their nests, feigning injuries to distract predators.
It is 10.5 inches (27 cm) with a brown cap, body, and wings, a white belly, and two black bands across the breast and face. They have red-ringed black eyes.
They feed primarily on caterpillars, grasshoppers, and fly larvae. They’re also helpful in farm fields as they pick the bugs and larvae from freshly plowed fields.
These birds are very entertaining to watch. They tend to run forward, then pause and peck, and then run again to peck on snacks.
40. Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
The spotted sandpiper is a fun bird to watch. It bobs along the shoreline, looking for tasty treats in the sand.
It is a small variety, only 7.5 inches (19 cm), with brown plumage and a spotty belly. They have pink bills with dark tips and long legs. Unlike most sandpipers, they scamper around on their own as opposed to flocks.
Females are larger and more aggressive, controlling most of the mating rituals. They will mate with several partners, having clutches of eggs up to five per season. They then leave the incubation and child-rearing up to the father.
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