Beaver Island Birding Hot Spots

Some of the bird species found on Beaver Island are familiar residents like chickadees, woodpeckers and grouse, Sorawhile
others visit the archipelago as part of their annual cycle.  In the winter, northern visitors such as Snowy Owls, Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Long-tailed Ducks can be found.  However, the greatest diversity of species can be seen during spring and fall migration, as well as during the summer breeding season.  Large flocks of warblers, vireos, sparrows, and thrushes feed along the coastal forests and dunes as they migrate in spring.  Many of these birds take advantage of a plentiful food source in May, the large swarms of non-biting midges that emerge from Lake Michigan.

Some of these birds like Black-throated Green Warblers and Hermit Thrushes stay to breed on the islands, while others like Palm Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows just stop over for a day or two on their journey north. Additionally, the archipelago is a summer breeding home for many waterbirds, waterfowl and shorebirds.  The endangered Piping Plover may breed on sandy beaches where sandpipers can also be found.  Common Loons nest on several inland lakes while Bald Eagles and Osprey soar overhead.  Ducks and geese can be observed on these inland habitats but can also be found on the big lake.  Gulls, terns, herons and cormorants take advantage of secluded outer islands to form breeding colonies and raise their young.

 The Beaver Archipelago is a splendid location to view a great diversity of birds because it provides important habitats for many members of the Great Lakes avian community.

--Dr. Nancy Seefelt, Professor of Biology

Go to the Birding Hot Spots Map page.

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Know The Signs:

Sign 1Orange Sign

White indicates observation from the road.

Orange is a trail; get out and explore!

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Do Not Disturb

Yellow Warbler on Nest

Birding Etiquette

Please enjoy the avian richness of our special island. Out of respect for island property owners and to protect our migrating and nesting birds, please observe the following rules of birding etiquette:

  1. Access private property only with express permission by owner.
  2. Do not approach bird nests under any circumstances.
  3. Keep all pets on leashes during breeding season.
  4. Do not use taped or smart phone bird calls or songs during breeding season (May 1 - July 15).
  5. Please stay on trails to protect ground-nesting birds.

More Birding Hints from the Audubon Society

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Beaver Island Birding Trail Checklist

Download the BIBT Checklist to keep track of your birding experience on the Island!
Right-click on the link to save the checklist PDF to your desktop!

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Conservation and Issues Facing Birds

Red Headed Woodpecker

  • Habitat loss:

    Habitat loss is the number one challenge facing bird populations. While we tend to think of habitat loss as property that is developed or goes under the plow, habitat loss also results from the use of non-native plant species. Only native plant species host the insect abundance required by birds, particularly important during the nesting season.

  • Free ranging cats:

    The Smithsonian Institution conducted a study of this issue and found that free ranging cats are responsible for the loss of up to a billion birds a year in North America alone. The American Bird Conservancy, along with other conservation organizations (including Saving Birds Thru Habitat) is working hard to educate pet owners about this issue. Go to:

  • Plate glass windows:

  • Hundreds of millions of birds also die annually from crashing into windows. According to Dr. Gregory Butcher (US Forest Service International Migratory Species Coordinator), 90% of all birds that experience window crashes and fly away die from closed head injuries. Learn how to mitigate this problem at:

  • Winter habitat:

  • Migrating birds must have safe and healthy habitats in which to breed. Neotropical birds (which travel to the Central and South American tropics for the winter months) also need healthy habitats for their wintering sojourns. Shade or Fair Trade coffee helps to provide this habitat. If bird-friendly coffee is not available in your area, go to: :

  • To learn more about how to help birds, check out the Habitat Hints section of Saving Birds Thru Habitat website.

Grey Hairstreak Butterfly on Goldenrod FlowerPlants Matter

They matter because only plants have the ability to turn the sun's energy into food that keeps us, and our fellow creatures on earth, alive. Birds depend on plants because the insects they feed their young in turn rely on plants for their food. Nearly all terrestrial birds rear their young on insects rather than on seeds or berries. Even dead plant parts are vital to birds because they supply leaf litter that land snails consume. Land snails are then eaten by birds, and their shells supply calcium for bird egg shells.

The plants that produce the most bird food are those that evolved within local food webs, that is, native plants. The plants from Europe and Asia that we have imported to decorate our landscapes are very poor in comparison. The single most effective way to help both migrating and local birds is to restore the native plant community that once thrived on your property to as much of your land as possible. Most plants on Beaver Island are natives, thus there is a healthy insect population on the island which supports a large number of resident, migrating and breeding birds.

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, Chair, Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology - University of Delaware and Kay Charter, Executive Director, Saving Birds Thru Habitat

Conservation Sites of InterestSpotted Sandpiper

The State of Michigan’s list of “Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN)”.,4570,7-153-10370_30909_30916-93852--,00.html

And more specifically the list of birds:,4570,7-153-10370_30909_30916-154428--,00.html

Woodcock / Timberdoodle Conservation:

Grassland Bird Conservation:

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Kestrel Nest BoxKestrel Boxes

The Little Traverse Conservancy has started an American Kestrel Partnership in conjunction with the Peregrine Fund.  The mission of this partnership is to “Unify citizen and professional scientists to advance conservation of the American Kestrel”.  The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon, about the size of a Blue Jay and their population in the US has declined by 47% since the 1960’s. There are many hypotheses concerning the decline in the population, including pesticide poisoning, predation, development and reforestation of preferred habitats, and a lack of suitable nesting cavities.  Through this program we are creating more nesting cavities for this beautiful bird. Kestrels nest in cavities of standing deadwood near open meadows and will readily use nest boxes. Many easement-protected properties offer suitable nesting and foraging habitat.

Suitable habitat includes open meadows where the birds can hunt for voles, mice and insects while raising their young.  Monitoring of the boxes is conducted from mid-February through June and reported every one to two weeks at the following address  If you are interested in helping out or installing a box of your own to monitor you will find instructions on the Peregrine Fund web site.


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Bluebirds at their nest boxBluebird Houses

Eastern Bluebirds experienced declining populations for decades because of habitat loss and nest site competition with European Starlings and House Sparrows. When people began mounting nest boxes for this beautiful and popular bird, their numbers improved. This is an example of how people can make a positive difference for our nesting bird populations. Check out plans for the Tree Branch Bluebird House for the safest and most effective housing for bluebirds.

Frank Zuern, the Wisconsin "bluebirder" who designed this style, tested the temperature differential between the Tree Branch box and the traditional "upright" style by placing a calibrated temperature probe inside each. His research revealed that the temperature inside the traditional box climbed 15 degrees above ambient. Thus, if the mercury rises to 92 degrees, the temperature inside the upright box topped out at 107 degrees. At 106 degrees, the eggs will addle (become unviable) or nestlings will die of heat stress like a dog in a car. But the temperature in his Tree Branch Bluebird Box only rose two degrees above ambient. Thus this style prevents nest failure due to heat stress.

Nest box plans can be found here:  Tree Branch Bluebird House .



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Beaver Island's Chimney Swift TowerSwift Towers

The Chimney Swift Tower on the lawn on the north side of the Government Building in St. James was constructed to attract Chimney Swifts both during breeding season and migration.  These “flying cigars” normally build their nests inside old masonry chimneys, which are becoming rare across the United States.  Conservation organizations throughout the country are involved in constructing towers in an effort to provide these birds with nesting sites; otherwise, the species could face extinction.  The base of the tower on Beaver Island contains interpretive signage with more information about Chimney Swifts.








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Mute Swan Attacking Mallard FamilyMute Swans:

Other than the European Starling, Beaver Island has only one invasive bird species, the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), that is affecting native birds and island ecosystems.  The Mute Swan is native to Europe and Asia and was brought to the United States in the late 1800's as an elegant and graceful avian ornament for public parks and private estates.  Some of the birds escaped from these areas, and the size of the Mute Swan population in Michigan and other Great Lakes states is now growing extremely rapidly.  According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a pair of Mute Swans was introduced near Charlevoix in 1919.  From this single pair, the state population grew to 2000 birds in 1990 and over 15,000 today. 

Mute Swans are considered beautiful birds by many people, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Although their striking physical appearance is a plus for these large swans, there is a dark side to this bird.  First, they are very aggressive.  They harass native waterfowl, such as loons and Trumpeter Swans, and prevent them from nesting.  Common Loons on both Barney’s Lake and Font Lake on Beaver Island have lost nesting opportunities due to the aggressive habits of Mute Swans on the lakes.  Mute Swans are even aggressive toward humans and will attack anyone, especially a small child, who approaches their nest.  Second, Mute Swans destroy wetland vegetation.  Mute Swans eat aquatic plants, and they are messy eaters.  Not only does an adult swan consume four to eight pounds of vegetation a day, but it also uproots a lot more vegetation than it actually eats.  This behavior has negative consequences on other animals.  Many small fish, aquatic insects, and other invertebrates live in the vegetation Mute Swans eat, so when the vegetation is gone, so is their habitat.  These animals serve as food for other animals, so when they disappear, so do the animals which feed upon them. 

Because of the large number of Mute Swans in the state of Michigan, the birds are putting pressure on valuable wetland habitats that are needed to sustain the rich biodiversity of the Great Lakes.  The Michigan DNR’s goal for the species is to reduce the growth rate of the population to zero by 2016 and reduce the state-wide population to less than 2000 by 2030.

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