Michigan Audubon Office: (517) 580-7364|birds@michiganaudubon.org
About 2018-03-06T10:54:01+00:00

What makes Whitefish Point unique?

The shape of Whitefish Point, a peninsula that stretches out into Lake Superior, creates a natural migration corridor. Hemmed in by water on either side, Whitefish Point’s land and water features create a natural corridor that funnels thousands of birds through the Great Lakes region during spring and fall migrations, providing unique opportunities for research, education, and conservation programs. As a concentration zone for migrating birds, the Point has been identified an Important Bird Area for several species of conservation need. Thousands of birds use Whitefish Point as critical stopover habitat to replenish energy reserves before venturing across Lake Superior during spring and fall migrations.

The habitats surrounding the Point are ideal for many of Michigan’s boreal birds. Along with summer and yearlong residents, the area attracts numerous winter migrants atypical in the southern part of the state.

Over 340 species of birds have been seen at the Point including: White-winged Scoter, Red-throated Loon, Spruce Grouse, Rough-legged Hawk, Jaegers, Great Gray Owl, Boreal Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, over 30 species of warblers and northern finches like Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Redpolls and Crossbills to name just a few.

The History of WPBO

For over 30 years, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory has been monitoring and documenting the migration of tens of thousands of birds that funnel to the Point every Spring and Fall.

Whitefish Point has not always been the well-studied area it is today. Prior to 1912, the migration significance of the Point was unknown to science. Scientific observation efforts began July 6, 1912, initiated by Norman Wood and the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology as part of the Shiras expeditions. Other biological and geological studies were being carried out in the Eastern Upper Peninsula at the same time through the assistance of the Honorable George Shiras III. On that first expedition and a follow-up in 1914, Norman Wood counted a total of 163 species. Today, over 340 species of birds have been sighted at the Point.

The first formal banding project began in 1966 as a collaboration between J.O.L. Roberts of the Ontario Bird Banding Association and Alice and Neil Kelley from Cranbrook Institute of Science. Their primary focus was gathering data on the Sharp-shinned Hawk, but eventually grew to include surveys of migrating owls. The banding continued officially every spring from 1966 through 1971, and in the following years, several banders jointly continued the work on their own.

Eventually, in 1976, Michigan Audubon established a Whitefish Point Committee, which resulted in the official creation of Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in 1979. The Point has been staffed by dedicated professionals, volunteers, and was led by a volunteer-board until 2016. In January 2016 Michigan Audubon assumed ownership after years of partnering with WPBO.

Learn more about the history of avian studies at the Point
Dr. Norman Wood

Dr. Norman Wood

Our Mission

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory is a program of Michigan Audubon. Our mission is to document the distribution and abundance of birds in the Great Lakes Region, with special emphasis on migration and habitat.

Our research and conservation projects focus on:

  • Assessing the status of bird populations and movements. Our data increases knowledge, encourages public awareness of birds and the environment, and advances bird conservation as part of Michigan Audubon’s mission to connect birds and people for the benefit of both.
  • Habitat protection, stewardship, and restoration work on and around Whitefish Point, with particular emphasis on Jack Pine and Dune and Swale habitats.
  • Monitoring Piping Plovers and provide protection to nesting areas.

WPBO conducts annual migration counts for raptors (spring only), and waterbirds (spring and fall). WPBO has also undertaken an owl banding project for the last three decades, historically occurring in the spring and fall, but that has recently grown to include summer owl banding for juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Learn more about research at WPBO

WPBO as a program of Michigan Audubon

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory became a program solely operated by Michigan Audubon as of January 1, 2016. All programs, research, and staff are maintained by Michigan Audubon, and all members of Michigan Audubon are considered members of WPBO (and vice versa). Michigan Audubon is dedicated to ongoing research, monitoring, restoration, education, and conservation efforts at WPBO, and depends on member support and donations to continue improving important bird conservation efforts at WPBO.

WPBO conducts annual migration counts for raptors (spring only), and waterbirds (spring and fall). WPBO has also maintained an owl banding program for the last three decades, historically occurring in the spring and fall, but that has recently grown to include summer owl banding for juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Learn more about the Michigan Audubon

Meet the Staff

Skye Haas
Skye Haas2018 Spring Field Ornithologist
Skye, an avid birder and naturalist, is excited to return to Whitefish Point this spring since this is the place where he landed his first waterbird counting position over a decade ago. Since then, Skye has been working as a contract biologist for organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Seney NWR, the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas, and the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas. The last two autumns, Skye has been the waterbird counter at the Avalon Seawatch at the Cape May Bird Observatory (New Jersey), where in 2014 he was the lead counter of the team that set the all-time single-season record of over one million, twenty-six thousand migrating waterbirds! Skye has a degree from Northern Michigan University and has led tours for Michigan Audubon, the Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival, and also his own guide service, Borealis Birding. A returning member of the Michigan Bird Records Committee, Skye is a long-standing Board member of the Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society in Marquette and is a founding member of the Keweenaw Raptor Survey (now Brockway Mountain Hawk Watch).
Chris Neri
Chris Neri2018 Spring Head Owl Bander
A lifelong birder, Chris became particularly fascinated with owls at the ripe old age of eight. In the mid-90’s he was introduced to owl banding by Katy Duffy in Cape May, NJ, and he said he knew after the very first night of banding that his life had just been changed. He has since worked with birds of prey in NV, NJ, NM, ID, CA, OR, MN and his home state of PA. His life was again changed when he arrived for his first season of owl banding at WPBO in spring 1999. Chris has been fortunate enough to spend seasons at some of the premier raptor sites around the country, working on some great research projects, but as he reports, “nothing has captured me the way the owl migration at Whitefish Point has.”
Louie Dombroski
Louie Dombroski2018 Spring Waterbird Counter
Louie Dombroski, originally from Bay City, landed his first field ornithology job in 1988 when he became Waterbird Counter at Whitefish Point. Although field work has taken him to Alaska, Arizona, Mexico, and many points in between, Louie keeps returning to northern Michigan on a regular basis. For the last three years, Louie has been an integral part of other Lake Superior waterbird counts. Louie also worked on both Michigan Breeding Bird Atlases, authored many Summer and Fall Seasonal Bird Survey reports for the Michigan Audubon journal Michigan Birds & Natural History, and is currently chair of the Michigan Bird Records Committee. Louie has been the waterbird counter at Whitefish Point for several seasons over the years, including the inaugural fall waterbird count.
Nova Mackentley
Nova Mackentley2018 Spring Owl Bander
Nova graduated from Oberlin College and has worked with passerines, owls, hawks, ground squirrels and ocelots at various field sites all over the world. She landed her first owl banding job in 2003 at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN. After this, it was a short drive to the other side of Lake Superior to Whitefish Point in the spring of 2005. She quickly fell in love with the owl migration at Whitefish Point and has returned every year since. Nova and Chris Neri have now made the Point their permanent residence, and its rugged wildness inspires much of their photography nightflightimages.com.
Gary Palmer
Gary Palmer2018 Spring Hawk Counter
Gary Palmer grew up in Saginaw and developed a love for the outdoors from a young age. He received a degree in biology from Saginaw Valley State University in 2007 and shortly afterward he moved to the Upper Peninsula to live in Marquette. He attended graduate school at Northern Michigan University, where he recently finished his master’s degree in post-secondary biology education. His interest in studying animal behavior steered him toward taking Dr. Alec Lindsay’s field ornithology course at NMU in 2010, and his life hasn’t been the same since. After discovering the incredible rush of spring migration he was hooked, and has dedicated much of his time to birding anywhere he can, making trips to Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, Minnesota and New Jersey in recent years.
Joanne Selbee
Joanne SelbeeOwl's Roost Gift Shop Manager
This is Joanne’s 25th year of working for Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. She started right after she and her husband moved to the area, working previously in retail and offices. She graduated from Western Michigan University with a BS degree. She enjoys meeting all the people who visit WPBO from all over the United States and enjoys the friendships she’s made at WPBO. She considers herself a “backyard birder” who loves to feed birds at her home.