MICHIGAN’S WHITEFISH POINT — Even though it’s still cold at Michigan’s remote Whitefish Point in mid-March, the presence of owls, hawks, and other raptors is a clear sign that spring has arrived.
Whitefish Point, which juts out into Lake Superior, is part of a natural corridor that funnels thousands of birds through the Great Lakes region during their spring and fall migrations, making it one of the best places in the state to go birdwatching during those seasons.
For more than 30 years, researchers have used this birding hotspot as part of the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory program, or WPBO, which is now supervised by Michigan Audubon, to count, capture, band, and release migrating birds. The banding is important not only for avian research and conservation, but it also allows tourists to get a close look at these magnificent birds.
During WPBO’s spring owl banding, which began March 15 and ends May 31, visitors can assemble outside of the Owl’s Roost field station from dusk to midnight on Friday and Saturday evenings to observe some of the owls up close while banders discuss the birds’ field marks and other characteristics.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is the most commonly banded owl at the Point, but banders have documented eight other owl species, including Boreal, Long-eared, Short-eared, Great Horned, Great Gray, Barred, Snowy, and Northern Hawk Owls — “an impressive diversity of owls largely unparalleled at any other banding site in North America,” according to Michigan Audubon. Whitefish Point has been home to around 340 different bird species.
You won’t be able to visit Whitefish Point this spring. Summer owl banding will take place from July 1 to August 25, and fall owl banding will take place from September 15 to October 31.
It should be noted that banding is weather-dependent, and banders have the option to cancel if needed.