Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, a program of Michigan Audubon - background image


WPBO: Since 1979

Whitefish Point has not always been the well-studied area it is today. Prior to 1912, the Point’s migration significance was unknown to science. Scientific observation efforts began July 6 of 1912, initiated by Norman Wood and the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology as part of the Shiras expeditions. On that first expedition, and a second 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 lead by a volunteer-board until 2016, when Michigan Audubon assumed ownership after years of partnering with WPBO. To learn more about Michigan Audubon’s connection to WPBO, click here.

Read the full history of Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, written by Michigan Audubon board member and past WPBO board member, John Baumgartner.

History of Bird Counts

Hawk Count

The hawk count at WPBO has been actively gathering migration data for over 25 years. WPBO is partnered with the Hawk Migration Assoc. of America website (HMANA), where you can view the numbers of hawks seen each day during migration. Visit the Migration Counts blog to read updates on ongoing counts or to learn about past counts.

2011 broad winged hawk 22 copyright Nova Mackentley

Waterbird Count

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. The spring migration of Common Loons is one of the largest in the country, but overall, spring waterbird numbers are a fraction of the volume of flight that passes by in the fall. The numbers of Red-necked Grebes are unsurpassed from any other site in North America. The spring waterbird count has been ongoing since 1984, and the fall count has been ongoing since 1989. It is one of the longest running waterbird counts in North America. Visit the Migration Counts blog to read updates on ongoing counts or to learn about past counts.

mergs and scaup copyright Chris Neri

History of Owl Banding

Image shows a juvenile Saw-whet Owl being banded. History of WPBO. Photo copyrightNova Mackentley.

Owl banding at WPBO has been ongoing since 1988 in the spring, 1993 in the fall, and most recently, in the summer since 2006.  The owl banding has historically focused on Northern Saw-whets and Boreal Owls, but other species are often banded as well such as Great Grays and Long-eared owls. This long-running program has provided important data to help monitor owl populations and their fluctuations over time. The summer banded was added in 2006 to study the movement of juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls, and up to 537 have been banded during a single season.  This exploratory project, the first ever documentation of an incursion of juvenile Saw-whets during the post-breeding period, continues today to help us learn more about the summer movements of these owls. Visit the Owl Banding blog to read updates on the project or to learn about specific past counts.