Michigan is a beautiful state with a diversity of landscapes, from large, sprawling cities to craggy coastlines, frozen tundra and sparkling lakes. The state is also home to more than 450 species of birds, many of whom can be found in the backyards of the state’s residents. In this guide, we’re going to go over the birds of Michigan and in particular: help you identify the ones that could be nesting in your own backyard.
Eastern Screech Owl
Adult Eastern Screech Owls are common in the northern areas of the country, and are especially prevalent in Michigan. They typically weigh between 4-9 ounces and are between 6-10 inches in length. Stocky and short-tailed, the average Eastern Screech Owl has a wingspan of up to 6.8 inches. They are typically grey or reddish in color, with large, round heads, tufted ears and yellowish beaks. These owls are nocturnal, using the darkness of night to vocalize, especially during the breeding season. They typically nest in tree cavities, and because of their neutral colors, are able to camouflage and hide from predators.
Common all over North America but especially prevalent in Michigan, the Red-Tailed Hawk is found in a variety of habitats, from forests to wooded residential areas, grasslands and architectural fields. The average adult hawk weighs between 1.5 and 3 pounds, with female hawks typically weighing about 25 percent more than their male counterparts. These birds of prey typically feed on small rodents, reptiles and fish. Red-Tailed Hawks are such prolific hunters that they are typically captured to be used in falconry.
American Three-Toed Woodpecker
Native to North America and found in abundance in Michigan, the Three-Toed Woodpecker is one of the most common woodpeckers in the Picidae family of birds. This woodpecker is, on average, eight inches long with a 15 inch wingspan. It weighs, on average, just under 2.5 ounces. These woodpeckers have an average lifespan of six years in the wild. The American Three-Toed woodpecker typically breeds in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, and females typically lay between three and seven eggs at a time. This woodpecker’s markings make it easy to spot. It characteristically has a black head, black rump and black wings with a white breast striped in black. Male woodpeckers typically have a yellow plume of feathers at the crown.
The Merlin is a member of the Falconide family and is considered a falcon. Often referred to as a “pigeon hawk,” the Merlin breeds in Michigan then heads south for warmer climates during winter. Males have wingspans of up to 23 inches and females tend to be slightly larger. Merlins are hunters, swooping in on small birds like quail and sparrows. They are often used in falconry due to their easygoing nature. Merlins have been growing in population, especially in Michigan where they have integrated themselves into urban life. Many have evolved so much that they are starting to skip their normal trek south and simply spend the winters in the Great Lakes state.
Nicknamed the “Butcherbird” for the particularly savage way it kills its prey, the Loggerhead Shrike is a member of the Laniidae family and is native to North America, particularly in Michigan, Southern Canada and the American Midwest. The Loggerhead Shrike is known to consume insects, amphibians, insects, lizards and smaller birds. It often impales its prey on tree branches, thorns or barbed wire before finally consuming it, often while it’s still alive. This makes it one of the more interesting birds of Michigan that we have in this list. They have also been known to attack larger animals by using their beaks to stab the animal’s head, then twisting. The Loggerhead Shrike is deadly but small. It is 8-9 inches long, weighs between 1.2 and 1.8 ounces and has a wingspan of between 11 and 12 inches.
Part of the Corvidae family, the Blue Jay is native to Eastern North America, but can be found in ample supply in Michigan. They prefer to live in forests, and can also be spotted in residential neighborhoods. This small bird is predominantly blue, with a white chest. It has a blue crest and black collar around his neck. There are variations on the markings, but they are usually identified by their characteristic blue, black and white color. The Blue Jay is an omnivore, feeding on nuts, seeds, fruits and small insects. They build open nests in trees and typically lay up to seven eggs, identified by their light blue colors with brown spots. Blue Jays measure between 9-12 inches, weigh up to 3.5 ounces and have a wingspan of up to 17 inches.
Canada Jay Bird
Also known as the gray jay, camp robber or whisky jack, the Canada Jay is native to North American forests and can be found in high concentrations in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. These birds can also be found in residential areas, and often approach humans for food. The Canada Jay is a songbird, and measures 9.8 to 13.0 inches long. It has an 18 inch wingspan and weighs between 2.3 and 2.5 ounces when fully matured. It has a mostly white head with gray markings, a black beak and black eyes. Its average lifespan is eight years, but there have been instances of them living for as long as 17 years. Young Canada Jay are typically entirely gray before gaining their first moult in the July or August after their birth. Canada Jay are ominivorous, feeding on rodents, nesting birds and salamander in addition to fruits and vegetation.
The Tufted Titmouse is a small bird in the Paridae family, and can be found throughout the state of Michigan. They are most prevalent, however, in the western portion of the state near Lake Michigan. The Tufted Titmouse is about six inches in length, with a white breast and grey upper body. They have brown flanks, a gray tufted crest and black beaks. They typically weigh less than an ounce and have a wingspan of up to 10 inches. They are easily identified by their distinctive song, a soft “peter-peter-peter” call that can be heard in up to 20 different tones. Their population is steadily increasing, and they enjoy a diet of insects, berries, nuts, fruit, snails, and seeds. Tufted Titmice do not migrate south for the winter, and make their nests in the hollows of trees.
A medium sized wading bird found in the state’s lakes, the Ruff is recognizable by its potbelly and long neck. The male’s breeding plumage is characterized by orange and other brightly colored feathered tufts, orange faces, a black breast and a large feathered collar. The female Ruff, also called a Reeve is about 8-10 inches long, weighs about 3.9 ounces and has a wingspan of up to 19 inches. Ruffs feed during both the day and night, and mostly eat worms, small fish, mollusks, seeds, grasses and grasshoppers. You can typically find the Ruff in marshlands, lakes and other bodies of water. In Michigan, they are more prevalent in the northernmost part of the state, in the Upper Peninsula area.
The Eastern Whipporwill is so named because of its song. You will likely near it before you see it, as the small nightjar’s feathers camoflauge it perfectly with its surroundings. Between 8-10 inches in length, 1.5 ounces to 2 ounces in weight and with a wingspan of up to 20 inches, the whipporwill is small but powerful. The upper body of the bird is gray, black and brown, and its bottom half is black and gray. Male whipporwills have a white patch on their breast and white tail tips. The female species has brown spots in these areas. Eastern Whipporwills are native to North America and migrate to the warm climates of Mexico and Central America for the winter. They are in danger of population decline—their small size make them a favorite of feral cats and wild dogs.
The Black Capped Chickadee
The Black Capped Chickadee is native to North America and is commonly found in Michigan. They reside in forests and are nonmigratory, preferring to lower their body temperatires to survive the cold Michigan winters. They are comfortable with humans, often preferring to get so close to them that they feed from their hands. True to its name, the Black Capped Chickadee has a black feathered head, a short, black beak and a white face. It has a gray back and a slate gray tail. Its body length is 4-6 inches, has a wingspan of 6-8 inches and weighs between 3 and 4 ounces. The Black Capped Chickadee can be found all over the state and are highly likely to appear in residential backyards.
The American Robin is one of the most commonly spotted backyard birds of Michigan. So common is the American Robin that it is the Great Lakes’ state bird. The American Robin is a songbird and is non-migratory. The American Robin feeds on small inspects, fruits and berries. The American Robin’s predators are cats, snakes and hawks. The robin is 9-11 inches long, with a wingspan of 12 to 16 inches. They weigh about 2.7 ounces, with the males slightly larger than the females. The American Robin is noted by its characteristic brown back and orange-red breast. They have yellow beaks with dark tips. The American Robin migrates to the Pacific Coast and Central Mexico in late
August and return to the north in February and March.
The Northern Cardinal is easily spotted by his deep red plumage and is one of the most commonly found birds of Michigan. Also called the redbird, the Northern Cardinal is a mid-sized songbird that measures 8-9 inches in length. It has a distinctive crest and a black mask over his face. The female cardinal is typically a more dull olive-brown color, and has a smaller crest than the male. The male marks his territory with song, a loud and clear whistle that the vocalizes from the tops of high trees. The distinctive “wheet-wheet-do-do-do-do” is the most common song of the Northern Cardinal, although these songs can vary by region. The Northern Cardinal’s diet consists of grains, nuts and fruits.
One of the most common birds of Michigan, the American Goldfinch is mainly found in residential neighborhoods. A small North American native bird in the finch family, the American Goldfinch is easily spotted by its bright yellow plume. Female goldfinches are typically more dull in color, typically appearing a dull brownish yellow. The female goldfinch’s feathers brighten slightly in summer. The American Goldfinch is a grainivore and feeds mostly on nuts and seeds. American Goldfinch are attracted to bird feeders, which helps to maintain their population. In addition, deforestation has cleared lands and created open meadows, the preferred habitat of the goldfinch. The American Goldfinch is about 4.3-5.5 inches long, weighs up to 0.71 ounces and has a wingspan of up to 8.7 inches.
The smallest of the North American woodpeckers, the Downy Woodpecker is a common sight among birds of Michigan. The Downy Woodpecker has a zebra-like appearance, black and white over most of its body, with a white breast and black beak. Markings may vary from bird to bird, but in general, most share the same characteristic patterns. These birds measure from 5.5 to 7 inches in length, weigh between 0.72 to 1.16 ounces. Their short wingspan of up to 3.3 inches is one of the smallest in the woodpecker family. The familiar “pik” of the woodpecker’s call distinguishes it from other birds. It also produces a four-tap drum when it drills into the barks of trees.
Song Sparrows love residential neighborhoods, so chances are, you have seen them in your yard at some point. These tiny birds migrate to the southern United States and Mexico during the winter, returning at the first signs of spring. Song Sparrows mainly eat nuts and seeds, so they can often be spotted in backyard bird feeders. Adults have brown and black streaks throughout the body, and typically have one long brown streak on the breast. They have gray faces with a small brown streak through each eye. Song Sparrows are 4.3 to 7.1 inches long, weigh between 0.42 to 1.87 ounces and have a wingspan of 7 to 10 inches. They can live up to 11 years in the wild, a longer lifespan than most of the most common birds of Michigan.
Also called the Starling, the European Starling is commonly found in wooded areas, but occasionally makes cameos in neighborhood backyards. The Starling has a glossy, metallic sheen, is completely black and speckled with white. In winter, the Starling has a black bill and a yellow one in winter. Juvenile birds have a brown plumage that deepens to black upon adulthood. The Starling feeds on fruit and sprouting crops, so they can wreak havoc on home gardens. The Starling is a vocal bird with a distinct “chee-chee-chee” call that is even more pronounced during mating periods. Starlings build nests in tree cavities, so one of the first signs they’ve made their home in your yard is an untidy nest and chewed up plants.
The Common Grackle is found in high abundance in North America, especially east of the Rockies. They are commonly found in Michigan backyards and their population is robust and growing. Adult male Common Grackles have a distinctive iridescent blue or green breast and head, a long, dark bill and yellow eyes. Their feathers are typically black, and they have long, tapered tails. The adult females are smaller than their male counterparts, and lack the iridescence of the male birds. They typically have brown feathers and brown eyes. Common Grackles feed on seeds, nuts, berries, minnows and frogs. Common Grackles often appear in residential backyards to forage for insects in the short grass right after a lawn trimming.
The Mourning Dove, also referred to as the Turtle Dove, is a common bird of Michigan. The dove is a popular game bird, with hunters killing more than 20 million of these birds each year. The doves preserve their population through prolific breeding. The Mourning Dove produces up to 12 offspring per year. These doves are a sandy brown color, and the males and females share the same markings, making them hard to distinguish from one another. The Mourning Dove is small and slender, and is approximately 12 inches in length. The birds weigh between four and six ounces, have round heads and broad, elliptical wings. If you want to attract these birds to your yard, consider getting a bird feeder. The doves exist on a steady diet of nuts and seeds and frequently make appearances in backyards across the state.
The American Crow is one of the most common birds of Michigan (and all of North America), and has a long history in popular culture. Crows are easily recognizable, hanging out on power lines, soaring above cities and making their way around parks, open spaces and in backyards. Crows strongly resemble ravens, although crows are smaller and have iridescent feathers. The American Crow is all black, is about 16-20 inches long, and weighs between 11 and 20 ounces. Almost half of his body’s length is his tail. The crow’s call is highly recognizable, and the familiar “caaW-caaW-caaW!” can be heard at all times of the day or night. American Crows build families of birds from several nesting seasons and travel together for life. Crows feed on carrion, scraps of human food, corn, wheat, mice and frogs. You can attract crows to your backyard by hanging raw corn on the cob or simply providing a bird feeder with seeds.
White Breasted Nuthatch
Native to North American and adapted to the frigid northern temperatures, the White Breasted Nuthatch is a songbird commonly found in Michigan. True to its name, the White Breasted Nuthatch has a white breast, a large, rounded head, blue and gray upper body areas and a brown lower belly. The White Breasted Nuthatch has more than nine subspecies, each having their own unique markings. The nuthatch nests in holes in trees, and forages for small insects for food. They also feed on acorns and hickory nuts and have been known to store these nuts inside of trees for winter sustenance. The White Breasted Nuthatch has dark gray, almost black feathers, strong beaks and a black band on the upper body, just below the neck. The nuthatch is up to five inches long, with a wingspan of 7-10 inches, and a weight of up to once ounce.
The diminutive House Sparrow is found all over the world, from Germany to Turkey, Mexico City and Lansing Michigan. These are some of the most common birds in the world, and their population continues to increase each year. The House Sparrow is most commonly found around areas of human habitat, and are most common in urban centers and large cities. They typically enjoy nuts and seeds, but will eat insects and scraps of human food as well. They have been known to hang out in public parks and feast on potato chips, bread and cookies. The House Sparrow is small in size, weighing in at about 1.3 ounces and measuring about 6.3 inches long. It has a wingspan of 7-9 inches. The House Sparrow is typically gray or brown, with the female sparrow a bit more muted than the male. The male has a dark grey crown, chestnut brown flanks on the head and a gray underbody. You will recognize the sparrow by his call, typically described as “phillip or chirrup,” a call shared by both male and female sparrows. During mating season, the male sparrow will typically sing a “chur-chur-r-r-it-it-it-it,” call to signal to females that it is time to mate.
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Woodpeckers are another one of the birds of Michigan that are very common, and prefer wooded areas. You would be more likely to find the Red Bellied Woodpecker in Northern Michigan than in the southern regions. Don’t be fooled by the name. The Red Bellied Woodpecker actually does not have a red belly. It has a red head with bright plumage, and are typically light gray with black and white speckles on their back and wings. There is a reddish tinge on its belly that gives it his name, but most people can’t identify this coloring with the naked eye. This woodpecker is one of the smaller among other species in the woodpecker family, with a length of 9-10 inches long, a wingspan of 15-18 inches and a weight of 2-3 ounces. The woodpecker has a distinctive call, similar to a churr-churr-churr, br-r-r-r-t. The males typically drum more than the females, a six drum tap that is usually a mating call.
The Kirtland’s Warbler is commonly found in the Upper Peninsula near the Jack Pine forest, but can be found in residential areas in the northern part of the lower peninsula. They are referred to by locals as the Jack Pine bird. The warbler has a bluish gray face and back, yellow chest, belly and throat and black stripes down his sides. It has two white wingbars and white crests above his eyes. The Kirtland’s Warbler is approximately 5 inches in length, and weighs about 0.6 ounces. In the winter, these birds migrate to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands. The Warbler’s mating song is a chip-chip-chip-too-too-weet-weet call which can be heard for nearly a half mile. The songs are typically the same for both the male and female birds.
Owls are common to Michigan and most of Canada, so if you live in the right region of the state, you are likely to see one or two in your backyard at some point. The Snowy Owl is easy to spot due to its white plumage. Juvenile owls typically have black markings on their wings until they reach adulthood, at which point they lose their color and turn completely white. This coloring is thought to be an adaptation that allows them to blend in with snow and avoid predators. The Snowy Owl is large, measuring up to 25 inches in length, with a wingspan of up to five feet. The owl weighs up to six pounds, with males noticeably larger than females. The Snowy Owl has up to 15 distinct calls, some a traditional “hoot” while others are more of a barking sound. The Snowy Owl feeds on mammals, and in Michigan, their diet primarily consists of lemmings. They also eat rodents like voles, squirrels and groundhogs. In addition, they also feed on small amphibians and insects.
Birds Of Michigan: Final Words
Michigan has a diverse landscape and is home to a wide range of birds, some favoring the forests of the Upper Peninsula with others preferring the urban backyards of people in urban cities, suburbs and rural areas. Spotting these birds can be fun and interesting, and knowing more about their preferred habitat, diet and habits will make it easier for you to attract these beautiful creatures to your backyard.