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18 White Birds in Michigan

white birds in michigan
Snowy Owl in Chippewa, Michigan: Photo by Brad Imhoff

Introduction

Michigan’s diverse landscapes provide a haven for a wide array of bird species, including many elegant white birds that grace its skies and waterways. In this guide, we’ll delve into the world of Michigan’s white birds, exploring their characteristics, habitats, and the unique role they play in the state’s ecosystem.

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

  • Features: The Snow Goose is a majestic bird with predominantly white plumage, though it may have black wingtips and a pink bill. During migration, large flocks of Snow Geese can be seen flying overhead in characteristic V-shaped formations.
  • Locations: Snow Geese can be found in various habitats across Michigan, including marshes, lakeshores, and agricultural fields where they feed on grasses, sedges, and agricultural crops.
  • Fun Fact: Snow Geese are known for their spectacular spring and fall migrations, traveling thousands of miles between their breeding grounds in the Arctic and their wintering areas in the southern United States.

Ross’s Goose (Anser rossii)

  • Features: Similar in appearance to the Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose is smaller with a shorter bill and lacks the “grin patch” typically seen on Snow Geese. It has all-white plumage with black primary feathers that are visible in flight.
  • Locations: Ross’s Geese are rare visitors to Michigan, primarily seen during migration periods. They are often found in the company of Snow Geese, feeding in agricultural fields and wetland areas.
  • Fun Fact: Ross’s Geese are known for their high-pitched, nasal calls that sound like “hoo-hoo-hoo.” They often vocalize while in flight, adding to the cacophony of sounds during migration.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

  • Features: The Mute Swan is a large, graceful bird with entirely white plumage, a long neck, and an orange bill with a black knob at the base. Despite its name, it is not completely mute and can produce a variety of vocalizations.
  • Locations: Mute Swans can be found in both freshwater and saltwater habitats across Michigan, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: Mute Swans are non-native to North America and were introduced from Europe for ornamental purposes. However, they have become established in many areas and are often seen as both beloved and controversial residents.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

  • Features: The Trumpeter Swan is the largest native waterfowl species in North America, with entirely white plumage and a long, straight neck. It has a distinctive deep, resonant honking call.
  • Locations: Trumpeter Swans can be found in wetland areas across Michigan, including marshes, lakes, and rivers. Efforts to reintroduce this species have been successful, leading to increasing populations in recent years.
  • Fun Fact: Trumpeter Swans mate for life and often form strong pair bonds that last throughout the year. They are known for their elaborate courtship displays, which involve synchronized swimming and vocalizations.

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

  • Features: Tundra Swans are slightly smaller than Trumpeter Swans and have a more rounded head and a yellow spot at the base of the bill. They have entirely white plumage with black feet and legs.
  • Locations: Tundra Swans migrate through Michigan during their spring and fall migrations, stopping to rest and feed in wetland areas along their journey.
  • Fun Fact: Tundra Swans are long-distance migrants, traveling thousands of miles between their breeding grounds in the Arctic and their wintering areas in the southern United States and beyond.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

  • Features: The American Avocet is a striking wader with long, slender legs, a slender upturned bill, and distinctive black-and-white plumage. During the breeding season, it has a cinnamon-colored head and neck.
  • Locations: American Avocets can be found in shallow marshes, wetlands, and coastal mudflats across Michigan, where they forage for aquatic invertebrates.
  • Fun Fact: American Avocets are known for their unique foraging behavior known as “scything,” where they sweep their long bills from side to side through the water to capture prey.

Gray Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

  • Features: The Gray Plover, also known as the Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage, is a medium-sized shorebird with gray-brown upperparts, white underparts, and a distinctive black belly during the breeding season.
  • Locations: Gray Plovers can be found along Michigan’s coastlines during migration, where they forage for invertebrates in sandy and muddy areas.
  • Fun Fact: Gray Plovers breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate thousands of miles to their wintering grounds in the southern United States, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

  • Features: The Sanderling is a small, plump shorebird with a short black bill, white underparts, and gray-brown upperparts. During the breeding season, it has a reddish-brown plumage on its head, neck, and breast.
  • Locations: Sanderlings can be found along Michigan’s beaches and coastal areas during migration, where they feed on small invertebrates in the sand and mud.
  • Fun Fact: Sanderlings are known for their frenetic feeding behavior, running back and forth along the shoreline as waves recede, probing the sand for food.

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

  • Features: Bonaparte’s Gull is a small, graceful gull with a white body, gray wings, and distinctive black wingtips. During the breeding season, it develops a dark hood and delicate pink flush on its breast.
  • Locations: Bonaparte’s Gulls can be found along Michigan’s coastlines and inland lakes during migration, where they forage for fish, insects, and small crustaceans.
  • Fun Fact: Bonaparte’s Gulls are one of the few gull species that regularly nest in trees. They build their nests in coniferous trees near water, often in association with other colonial waterbirds.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black ring around its yellow bill. It has yellow legs and feet.
  • Locations: Ring-billed Gulls are abundant in coastal areas, lakeshores, and urban environments across Michigan, where they forage for a variety of food items, including fish, insects, and scavenged food.
  • Fun Fact: Ring-billed Gulls are opportunistic feeders and are known to snatch food from other birds, steal from picnic sites, and scavenge from garbage dumps.

American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

  • Features: The American Herring Gull is a large gull with a white body, gray wings, and pink legs. It has a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip, which becomes more prominent in adults.
  • Locations: American Herring Gulls can be found in coastal areas, lakeshores, and urban environments across Michigan, where they forage for fish, crustaceans, and scavenged food.
  • Fun Fact: American Herring Gulls are highly adaptable and can be found in a wide range of habitats, from pristine coastal areas to urban environments and agricultural fields.

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

  • Features: The Iceland Gull is a medium-sized gull with a white body, gray wings, and a pale pink bill. It has pink legs and feet and lacks the dark wingtips seen in many other gull species.
  • Locations: Iceland Gulls are rare visitors to Michigan, primarily seen along the state’s coastlines during the winter months.
  • Fun Fact: Iceland Gulls breed in the Arctic and migrate south to wintering areas in North America and Europe. They are known for their pristine white plumage and graceful flight.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

  • Features: The Caspian Tern is a large, powerful tern with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black cap that extends to its bill. It has a long, slender orange bill and a deeply forked tail.
  • Locations: Caspian Terns can be found along Michigan’s coastlines and inland lakes during the breeding season, where they forage for fish by diving from high above the water.
  • Fun Fact: Caspian Terns are formidable predators and are known for their spectacular plunge-diving hunting technique, where they dive headfirst into the water to catch fish.

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)

  • Features: Forster’s Tern is a medium-sized tern with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black cap that extends to its bill. It has a slender orange bill and a deeply forked tail.
  • Locations: Forster’s Terns can be found along Michigan’s coastlines and inland lakes during the breeding season, where they forage for fish and aquatic invertebrates.
  • Fun Fact: Forster’s Terns are highly agile flyers and are known for their graceful aerial maneuvers as they hunt for prey over open water.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

  • Features: The Common Tern is a medium-sized tern with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black cap that extends to its bill. It has a slender orange bill and a deeply forked tail.
  • Locations: Common Terns can be found along Michigan’s coastlines and inland lakes during the breeding season, where they forage for fish and aquatic invertebrates.
  • Fun Fact: Common Terns are colonial nesters and often breed in large colonies on islands and remote coastal areas. They fiercely defend their nesting territories against intruders.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

  • Features: The Great Egret is a tall, majestic wading bird with entirely white plumage, a long neck, and a dagger-like yellow bill. During the breeding season, it develops long plumes on its back.
  • Locations: Great Egrets can be found in marshes, wetlands, and coastal areas across Michigan, where they stalk shallow water in search of fish and other prey.
  • Fun Fact: Great Egrets are skilled hunters and use their sharp bills to spear fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They often stand motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to come within striking distance.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

  • Features: The Snowy Owl is a large, powerful owl with predominantly white plumage, spotted with dark markings. It has bright yellow eyes, a rounded head, and a thick feathered body.
  • Locations: Snowy Owls are occasional visitors to Michigan during the winter months, where they can be found in open fields, marshes, and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: Snowy Owls breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate south in search of food during the winter months. They are highly adapted to cold climates and have thick plumage to keep them warm.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

  • Features: The Snow Bunting is a small songbird with predominantly white plumage, streaked with black markings on its back and wings. It has a distinctive black patch on its throat and a short, stout bill.
  • Locations: Snow Buntings are winter visitors to Michigan, where they can be found in open fields, agricultural areas, and coastal dunes.
  • Fun Fact: Snow Buntings are highly adapted to cold climates and can withstand harsh winter conditions. They often forage for seeds and insects in snow-covered landscapes.

Threats and Conservation

While many of Michigan’s white birds are relatively common and not currently considered at risk, some face threats from habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Conservation efforts, such as habitat restoration, pollution reduction, and climate action, are essential to ensure the long-term survival of these species.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Michigan birders can contribute to conservation efforts by participating in citizen science programs such as eBird. By recording bird sightings, contributing to breeding bird atlases, and participating in bird counts, citizens can provide valuable data to help monitor bird populations and inform conservation decisions.

Conclusion

Michigan’s white birds add beauty and grace to the state’s natural landscapes, from the shores of its Great Lakes to its inland marshes and wetlands. By appreciating and protecting these avian residents, we can ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the wonder of Michigan’s diverse birdlife.