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21 Black-and-white Birds in Michigan

black and white birds in michigan
Black-and-white Warbler in Saginaw, Michigan: Photo by Samuel Stankiewicz

Introduction

From the shorelines of the Great Lakes to the sweeping forests of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan provides prime habitat for a variety of birds exhibiting striking black and white plumage. Ranging in size from tiny chickadees to large gulls and raptors, these distinctly patterned species fill diverse niches in Michigan’s ecosystems. Let’s explore some of the most eye-catching black and white birds to observe across the state.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris

  • Features: Medium diving duck with rounded head. Male has glossy black head, breast and back with thin white vertical shoulder stripes when at rest. Gray sides and belly. Female is gray-brown overall with darker back. 
  • Locations: Found on lakes, rivers and ponds year-round across Michigan. Winters along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
  • Fun Fact: Named for male’s subtle purple ring at base of black neck, only visible at close range. Courting male throws head back touching back. 

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

  • Features: Small diving duck with rounded head and peaked rear crown. Male has black head, breast and back with bright white flanks. Female is brown overall with white spot at base of black bill.
  • Locations: Widespread on lakes and bays in Michigan, mostly during migration and winter. Summers on the tundra. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds on marshy lakes across the tundra then migrates south along flyways to wintering grounds like the Great Lakes.

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

  • Features: Tiny diving duck with large head and puffy crest. Male is black above with large white patch on the back of the head. White below. Female grayish overall with white cheek spot. 
  • Locations: Winters commonly on Michigan’s Great Lakes, rivers and lakes. Breeds in boreal forest areas farther north.
  • Fun Fact: Male aggressively defends his mate during breeding season. Nests in old flicker cavities near water.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

  • Features: Medium black and white duck with round head and sloping bill. Male has white cheek patch and black back with white spot between wings. Gold-colored eyes. Female mottled gray-brown overall with brown head.
  • Locations: On lakes, rivers and estuaries across Michigan mainly during fall migration and winter. Summers farther north. 
  • Fun Fact: Male throws head backward during breeding display. Nests in cavities along northern lakes and rivers excavated by Northern Flickers. 

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

  • Features: Elegant black and white marsh bird with incredibly long pink legs and thin straight bill. Black cap and back contrast white underside. Red eyes. 
  • Locations: Rare localized summer resident in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula marshes. Winters along the Gulf Coast and farther south. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages in shallow water and mud for aquatic insects and small fish. Nest is a scrape on ground near water. Young leave nest soon after hatching.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

  • Features: Large shorebird with long bluish legs and thin upturned bill. Male has black and white patterned back, white underside and rusty head and neck in breeding season. Female is grayer. 
  • Locations: Uncommon summer resident locally in the Lower Peninsula. More common during migration. Winters along the south Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
  • Fun Fact: Swings bill through shallow water to catch small aquatic invertebrates by touch. Nest is shallow scraped depression near water. 

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

  • Features: Very large gull species with entirely white head, underparts, and tail. Mantle is dark sooty-black. Yellow bill is heavy and slightly hooked. 
  • Locations: Uncommon but regular migrant and winter visitor along Michigan’s Great Lakes shores and inland lakes. 
  • Fun Fact: Will prey on almost anything including fish, young waterbirds, eggs, crustaceans and even small mammals. Named for its huge size and dark mantle. 

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

  • Features: Large gull with yellow legs. Mantle is dark gray above paler gray wings. Head is white with yellow bill. Red orbital ring around eyes.
  • Locations: Rare visitor along Great Lakes usually seen during spring through fall migration. Has expanded range recently in North America.
  • Fun Fact: An opportunistic feeder and scavenger. Will nest on rooftops. Population increasing greatly in recent decades. 

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

  • Features: Large raptor with white underparts and head. Dark brown back and wings (okay, so it’s not black and white – close enough). Distinctive dark eye stripe. Large yellow eyes and talons.
  • Locations: Nests near waterbodies across northern Michigan. Migrates south for winter. Recently reintroduced.
  • Fun Fact: Plunges feet-first to catch fish near the surface. Nests high up on platforms near water. Has reversible outer toe to grasp slippery fish.  

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus

  • Features: Large white owl with black barring on wings and tail. Females larger with more barring while males are almost pure white. Round head lacks ear tufts. 
  • Locations: Irregular winter visitor in Michigan linked to food availability on Arctic breeding grounds. Found in open areas like coastal dunes, marshes and fields.
  • Fun Fact: One of few avian predators of Arctic fox pups. Hunts day and night for lemmings and other small mammals. Young leave nest before they can fly. 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius

  • Features: Medium-sized woodpecker. Male has red crown and throat, black back with white stripes, and pale yellow belly. Female has pale red throat and white chin. Juvenile appears drab overall. 
  • Locations: Uncommon summer breeder in northern Michigan. Migrates across the state. Winters in southeastern U.S.
  • Fun Fact: Drills evenly spaced sap wells in bark that attract insects. Taps make neat horizontal rows. Diet is insects and tree sap.

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

  • Features: Unmistakable medium woodpecker with entirely crimson head and upper breast. Mainly black body with large white wing patches. Short square-tipped tail.
  • Locations: Found year-round in open woodlands with mature trees across much of Michigan. Declining population. 
  • Fun Fact: Caches nuts and seeds in bark crevices. Will fly out acrobatically from high perches to catch insects in flight. 

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens

  • Features: Tiny black and white woodpecker with large white stripe down middle of black back. White underparts. Male has red patch on back of head. 
  • Locations: Common year-round across Michigan in woodlands and parks. Frequents suet feeders. 
  • Fun Fact: Will forage on branches, trunks and even on the ground for insects, spiders and seeds. Male drums fastest in early spring to attract mates.

Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus)

  • Features: Medium-sized black and white woodpecker. Resembles Downy but larger with longer chisel-pointed bill and lacks white outer tail feathers. White stripe down back broken near rump. 
  • Locations: Fairly common year-round resident across Michigan’s forests. More solitary than smaller Downy. 
  • Fun Fact: Uses long barbed tongue to extract carpenter ant larvae deep inside trees by drilling rows of small holes. Both parents brood and feed the young.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus

  • Features: Slate-blue falcon with black cap and narrow white face stripe. Underparts finely patterned black and white. White underside shows in flight.
  • Locations: Localized breeder across northern Michigan near cliffs and cities. More common during migration. 
  • Fun Fact: Fastest animal, clocked diving at over 200 mph. Nearly extirpated before protections allowed reintroductions. Impacts of DDT poisoning have lessened.  

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

  • Features: Medium flycatcher with black head, back and tail contrasting clean white throat and underparts. Red crown patch usually concealed. White wing tips flash in flight. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Michigan open habitats with scattered trees. Winters to South America.
  • Fun Fact: Aggressive defender of nests, chasing crows, hawks and other intruders away by flying at them and striking. 

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

  • Features: Tiny round-bodied chickadee with namesake black cap and throat contrasting white face. Buff sides and crisp white-edged gray wings. 
  • Locations: Common year-round across Michigan in woodlands, parks, and backyard feeders. Gregarious in winter flocks.
  • Fun Fact: Acrobatic feeder able to hang upside-down while foraging. Hoards hundreds of seeds each year to find later using spatial memory.

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis

  • Features: Common slate-colored sparrow with darker gray hood and breast contrasting paler belly. White outer tail feathers flash when it flies. Females paler brown overall. 
  • Locations: Found year-round across Michigan in both urban and wild areas with cover like overgrown fields. 
  • Fun Fact: Several color variants exist across its range including the Appalachian “Blue-headed” form. Roosts in trees in loosely mixed flocks during winter.

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus

  • Features: Medium grassland bird. Male is mostly black except for white scapulars, rump and neck band. Female is cream overall with dark streaking. Finch-like bill.
  • Locations: Summer resident in meadows and fields across southern Michigan. Long distance migrant to South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Male defends breeding territory against other males with aerial battles. Nests hidden on the ground in dense grasses. 

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)

  • Features: Small songbird with boldly striped black-and-white face and back pattern. Underparts whitish with black streaks along the flanks. Long slim bill. 
  • Locations: Migrates across Michigan’s woodlands. Breeds farther north. Winters to Mexico and the Caribbean.  
  • Fun Fact: Forages like a nuthatch walking along branches and tree trunks probing for insects. Has a very distinctive high-pitched wee-see-wee-see-wee-see song.

Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata

  • Features: Fall male is boldly patterned with black cap, white cheeks and black streaks down white underparts. Female is grayer overall with muted streaking below and two prominent white wingbars. 
  • Locations: Abundant migrant across Michigan mainly seen during spring and fall passages. Breeds across Canada, winters to South America. 
  • Fun Fact: One of the longest distance migrants of any warbler, making a nonstop transoceanic flight of up to 84 hours to reach South American wintering grounds.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss, pollution, collisions and climate change effects impact Michigan’s specialized black and white bird species. Conserving and restoring wetlands and continous mature forests while reducing obstacles through bird-friendly architecture can aid populations. Keeping pet cats indoors protects vulnerable birds. Careful use of pesticides reduces food chain impacts. Monitoring species informs wise management.

Citizen Science

Michigan birders make important contributions to knowledge and conservation:

  • Uploading checklists and sightings to eBird documents species distributions, survival, nesting success, migration timing, and population trends. Photos help verify rare visitors.
  • Marsh bird surveys conducted by volunteers provide data on abundance and habitat use of secretive species like bitterns and rails in inaccessible wetlands.
  • Nest box programs aid cavity nesters like wood ducks and owls while also collecting breeding data. Regular monitoring is essential.
  • Loon watches gather data on nesting success, chick survival, and threats to inform conservation initiatives for Common Loons.
  • Feeder surveys help track irruptive boreal finches and provide data on disease outbreaks like conjunctivitis experienced by goldfinches. 

Conclusion

Whether a tiny black-capped chickadee acrobatically foraging in a snowy backyard or a boldly-patterned peregrine falcon diving at over 200 miles per hour, Michigan’s remarkable diversity of black and white colored birds provides ample rewards for birders. Conserving ample high quality habitats and reducing hazards will ensure future generations can continue to appreciate these distinctly-plumaged species.