Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (WPBO) is located in Chippewa County, Michigan
Chippewa County, Michigan
-National protected areas:* Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge* Hiawatha National Forest * Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge-Demographics:...

, USA, adjacent to the Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge is a managed wetland in Schoolcraft County in the U.S. state of Michigan. It has an area of 95,212 acres . It is bordered by M-28 and M-77. The nearest town of any size is Seney, Michigan...

. It operates as a non-profit, affiliate education and research facility of the Michigan Audubon Society. The Society and the WPBO together have recorded over 300 species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of birds at Whitefish Point. As one of a network of bird observatories
Bird observatory
A bird observatory is a centre for the study of bird migration and bird populations. They are usually focused on local birds, but may also include interest in far flung areas. Most bird observatories are small operations with a limited staff, many volunteers and a not-for-profit educational status...

 in the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, the WPBO documents the bird population of the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 region through bird banding, data collection, and research studies.


Birders from the Ontario Bird Banding Association and the Cranbrook Institute of Science established a spring hawk
The term hawk can be used in several ways:* In strict usage in Australia and Africa, to mean any of the species in the subfamily Accipitrinae, which comprises the genera Accipiter, Micronisus, Melierax, Urotriorchis and Megatriorchis. The large and widespread Accipiter genus includes goshawks,...

 banding project in 1966 at Whitefish Point that was later expanded to survey migrating owl
Owls are a group of birds that belong to the order Strigiformes, constituting 200 bird of prey species. Most are solitary and nocturnal, with some exceptions . Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish...

s. This project lasted from 1966–1971 and was the forerunner of the WPBO.

Michigan Audubon formed a Whitefish Point Committee in 1976 to secure a license for access to the U.S. Coast Guard Whitefish Point Light Station except for the automated light and foghorn
A foghorn or fog signal or fog bell is a device that uses sound to warn vehicles of hazards or boats of the presence of other vehicles in foggy conditions. The term is most often used in relation to marine transport...

. The WPBO was established in 1978 as a non-profit organization supported by membership fees, donations and gifts, voluntary service, and grants from private and government institutions.

WPBO began annual monitoring of spring migrations beginning in 1979. By 1989 it expanded to include the monitoring of fall migrations and additional interpretative and research activities. In 1998, Michigan Audubon received a federal land patent
Land patent
A land patent is a land grant made patent by the sovereign lord over the land in question. To make a such a grant “patent”, such a sovereign lord must document the land grant, securely sign and seal the document and openly publish the same to the public for all to see...

 for 2.69 acre (0.0108860534 km²; 0.00420312871629361 sq mi) of the old light station property, which is now managed by the WPBO for research and educational activities.

Due to the researchers' exposure to extreme weather, WPBO adopted the procedures of observatories in Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 that use small buildings along the rocky points of the coast where people can stay to monitor migrating birds and keep records and report observations at the stations during migration. The WPBO has collaborated with Michigan Audubon to record over 300 species of birds at Whitefish Point.


The American Bird Conservancy
American Bird Conservancy
American Bird Conservancy is a non-profit membership organization with the mission of conserving native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas...

 designated Whitefish Point an internationally Important Bird Area
Important Bird Area
An Important Bird Area is an area recognized as being globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations. Currently there are about 10,000 IBAs worldwide. The program was developed and sites are identified by BirdLife International...

. Whitefish Point’s land and water features create a natural corridor that funnels thousands of birds during spring and fall migrations, providing unique opportunities for research, education, and conservation programs. Golden eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Merlins
Merlin (bird)
The Merlin is a small species of falcon from the Northern Hemisphere. A bird of prey once known colloquially as a pigeon hawk in North America, the Merlin breeds in the northern Holarctic; some migrate to subtropical and northern tropical regions in winter.-European and North American...

, Boreal Owls, Great Gray Owls, Red-throated Loons, Red-necked Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
The Red-necked Grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes...

s, Scoter
The scoters are stocky seaducks in the genus Melanitta. The drakes are mostly black and have swollen bills. Females are brown.They breed in the far north of Europe, Asia and North America, and winter further south in temperate zones of those continents. They form large flocks on suitable coastal...

s, and Jaegers (also known as Skuas) are just some of the birds that can be seen during migration.

Thousands of birds use Whitefish Point as critical stopover habitat to replenish energy reserves before venturing across Lake Superior
Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the largest of the five traditionally-demarcated Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded to the north by the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Minnesota, and to the south by the U.S. states of Wisconsin and Michigan. It is the largest freshwater lake in the...

 during spring and fall migrations. A WPBO study found the highest density of migrant landbirds within 1.5 kilometres (4,921.3 ft) of Whitefish Point, with higher densities along the shore than at inland locations.

The federally endangered Piping Plover
Piping Plover
The Piping Plover is a small sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel beaches in North America. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the neck...

 is seen annually at Whitefish Point—for the first time in twenty three years a pair of nesting plovers fledged three chicks at Whitefish Point in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The sparsely vegetated, sand-cobblestone beaches at Whitefish are ideal breeding grounds for the Piping Plover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated approximately 2.5 kilometres (8,202.1 ft) of Whitefish Point shoreline as critical habitat for the bird, giving it protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is one of the dozens of United States environmental laws passed in the 1970s. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973, it was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and...

 at Whitefish Point.

Staff and volunteers

WPBO has a paid staff during migration that includes a field naturalist, two owl banders, a waterbird counter, and gift shop employees. Its eighteen-member board and volunteers conduct most of the operational duties, including conducting birding field trips and the annual fund raiser called the "Spring Fling".

Diurnal raptor census

Professional staff document the migration of hawks, falcon
A falcon is any species of raptor in the genus Falco. The genus contains 37 species, widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America....

s and eagle
Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in...

s that provides comparative data for long-term monitoring of raptor
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

 populations. The daily Raptor Census is conducted from the "Hawk Dune", which is about 200 metres (656.2 ft) west of the Whitefish Point Lighthouse and about 20 metres (65.6 ft) above Lake Superior's water level.

Raptor banders licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) "lure the birds from the sky into nearly invisible nets. Each bird is immediately released after it is banded and the details are recorded on an official log sheet which includes the date, time, location, and the bird’s species, age and sex." Researchers report that the increased capture of Merlin falcons at Whitefish Point in 2004 was "an environmental indicator that the merlins had come back (after the ban on the pesticide DDT)."


WPBO conducts the spring and fall banding of migrating owls, as well as a study of juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small owl native to North America.-Description:The scientific description of one of the sub-species of this owl is attributed to the Rev. John Henry Keen who was a missionary in Canada in 1896. Adults are long with a wingspan. They can weigh from with an average...

 dispersal at Whitefish Point using nesting boxes and DNA analysis.

The 20-year owl banding project has recently increased the number of owls banded by as much as eightfold by the addition of audio lures that are used to broadcast owl calls. Owls are captured in 10 feet (3 m) high by 25 feet (7.6 m) wide specialty nets strung along clearings in the trees. Data are recorded with each banding and the owls are then released.

Researchers report that "nearly one-third of the Boreal Owls banded in North America have been banded by WPBO.... The recent success of all three owl research seasons has begun to document that, on annual basis, Whitefish Point may very well play host to the largest and most diverse owl migration in North America."


Whitefish Point is an important spot for documenting and monitoring waterbird movements in the upper Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

. The Audubon Society reports, "Between 18,000 and 21,000 Red-necked Grebes pass by the point each fall, representing approximately 25–40% of the estimated North American Population." Other significant counts at Whitefish Point include the Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
The Red-breasted Merganser is a diving duck.-Taxonomy:The Red-breasted Merganser was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work, Systema Naturae.-Description:...

, Common Tern
Common Tern
The Common Tern is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. This bird has a circumpolar distribution, breeding in temperate and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and east and central North America. It is strongly migratory, wintering in coastal tropical and subtropical regions. It is sometimes...

, and Bonaparte's Gull
Bonaparte's Gull
The Bonaparte's Gull is a small gull.The Bonaparte's Gull is a small species, larger only than the Little Gull and the Saunders's Gull among all gull species. Adults are long with a wingspan and a body mass of . They have a black hood and a short thin dark bill. The body is mainly white with...


The waterbird count is conducted during both spring and fall migrations from the beach near the tip of Whitefish Point. The daily eight-hour count starts at sunrise with some the highest numbers occurring on inclement days, but Whitefish Point's frequent fog makes it difficult to count during this weather condition.


For the first time in twenty three years, Piping Plovers nested at Whitefish Point and successfully fledged offspring in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2010, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation protects, sustains and restores the wildlife, plants and habitats of the United States. Established by Congress in 1984, the Foundation directs public conservation dollars to critical environmental needs and matches those investments with private...

 awarded a $150,000 grant to Lake Superior State University
Lake Superior State University
Lake Superior State University is a small public university in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It is Michigan's smallest public university with an enrollment around 3,000 students. Due to its proximity to the border, notably the twin city of Sault Ste...

 to intensely monitor nesting Piping Plovers at Vermilion
Vermilion Point
Vermilion Point is a remote, undeveloped shore with a rich history lying west of Whitefish Point, Michigan, on a stretch of Lake Superior’s southeast coast known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes" or, in the title of a book by noted Great Lakes maritime historian , ""...

, Whitefish Point, and other shoreline areas in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. The USFWS designated the shoreline from Whitefish Point to Grand Marais, Michigan
Grand Marais, Michigan
Grand Marais is an unincorporated community in Burt Township, Alger County in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located on Lake Superior at and is the eastern gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore via H-58....

 as critical habitat for the Piping Plover. The Great Lakes population of Piping Plover are isolated and extremely vulnerable to extirpation from the Great Lakes region.


The observatory conducts a census program to document migrant passerines at the Point, as well as songbird
A songbird is a bird belonging to the suborder Passeri of the perching birds . Another name that is sometimes seen as scientific or vernacular name is Oscines, from Latin oscen, "a songbird"...

 populations throughout the Upper Peninsula, with a special emphasis on rare species and neotropical migrants. The daily songbird census is combined with the hawk and waterbird counts "to produce a Daily Estimated Total for all species migrating through Whitefish Point."

Canadian Migration Monitoring Network

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory is the only U.S.-based bird observatory in the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network. This North American
North American
North American generally refers to an entity, people, group, or attribute of North America, especially of the United States and Canada together.-Culture:*North American English, a collective term used to describe American English and Canadian English...

 network of observatories studies, tracks, processes, and shares enormous volumes of data about migrating birds from the Atlantic to the Pacific to show the "'big picture' of what birds populations are doing across the northern half of the North America."

External links

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