Waterbird Count

April 15-May 31
Aug 15-Nov 15
8 hours starting at dawn daily

Visit the Waterbirds blog for daily updates

Whitefish Point is the most important spot for documenting and monitoring waterbird movements in the upper Great Lakes. Spring and fall counts record loons, grebes, ducks, geese, shorebirds and other waterbirds, providing important information on abundance and timing of migration, aiding in regional and international efforts to monitor changes in populations. Before WPBO started documenting the waterbird migration at Whitefish Point, certain species such as red-throated loons, scoters and red-necked grebes, were considered uncommon in Michigan. Spring Jaeger records were unheard of anywhere in the upper Great Lakes until the first documented occurrences at Whitefish Point.

The waterbird count is conducted from the beach near the tip of the Point about 50 yards from the shore. The exact location varies slightly as the beach changes due to erosion. Counting waterbirds is rather straightforward in comparison to counting other birds at Whitefish Point. Waterbirds tend to migrate directly and rarely linger like so many hawks and songbirds. There are exception including shorebirds, red-breasted merganser, ring-billed gulls, and herring gulls, some grebes, and some loons. Regardless, most birds tend to migrate from southeast to northwest in spring and the opposite direction in the fall. Therefore, any birds seen migrating in the appropriate direction are counted. Individuals are not subtracted from the count if migrating in the wrong direction.

The goal of the census is to quantify the chronology and volume of migrating waterbirds in the Whitefish Point Migratory Corridor. Interpreting the waterbird data, like all bird censuses, must be done in the long term. Unlike the hawk count, in which weather can have tremendous effect on the ability of the birds to reach the Point, visibility is the prime concern during waterbird counts. Some of the most inclement days have had some of the highest numbers of migrating waterbirds, but if it is foggy the ability to detect the passing migrants is impossible.