Count Sites

Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch

The Straits of Mackinac in Michigan forms a unique convergence of land and water. The tapering shape of the lower peninsula concentrates migrating birds at its northern tip in the spring, as they await appropriate conditions to cross the Straits north to their summer breeding grounds. To a lesser extent, Lakes Michigan and Huron tend to funnel migrants to fly south over the Straits in the fall. Hawks and owls are of particular concern to conservationists because of their position at the top of the food web.

Their numbers and migration timing provide valuable insights into ecosystem conditions. Because of its geography, the Straits is one of the best places in the country for studying raptors in both the spring and fall migration seasons. Because of this national significance and the region’s significant visitation by tourists, it is an ideal place to educate the general public about this natural resource.

NOTE:  Because of the nature of the research involving owl migration, visitation to our owl banding sites is restricted. Please contact us at for opportunities to visit this research activity.

Spring Raptor Watch Count Sites

The Spring raptor watch is conducted from March 5th to June 5th.  Depending on conditions, the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch operates on one of two sites near Mackinaw City, MI that are about a mile apart from each other. They are both directly off of W. Central Avenue. These maps show the two sites in Mackinaw City.

The site that is used most often early in the spring is behind the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex, near the Baseball Field. You can find it on the Google Map above.

The secondary site is a gravel pit/field about 1 mile west of the Recreation Complex on the south side of Central Ave. Look for a Hawk Watch sign near the location to turn off West Central Ave.

Spring Raptor Watch Count Site – Mackinac Island

The Spring raptor watch is also conducted from March 5th to June 5th on Mackinac Island, right outside the Fort Holmes historic site.

Fall Raptor Watch Count Sites

The Fall raptor watch is conducted from August 20th to November 10th, from a site just west of the Mackinac Bridge in Saint Ignace, on Point LaBarbe. From US 2, turn south onto Boulevard Drive and drive 0.7 miles. Turn right onto Densmore Ave and go 0.6 miles until it reconnects with Boulevard Drive. Turn right onto Boulevard, which is a dirt road, often muddy, but passable.

Enjoy a slow and scenic drive for approximately 1 mile. The hawk counters are on the north side of the road.

Spring and Fall Waterbird Count Sites

The waterbird counts are conducted in both spring (March 20th to May 15th) and fall (August 20th to November 10th) from McGulpin and Graham Points.

In an attempt to survey the Straits better, and determine if the previous counts from McGulpin Point represent the entire Straits, the waterbird count is now conducted from two alternating locations. Alternating every other day with the McGulpin Point site in Mackinaw City, we are counting at the Graham Point site in St. Ignace, MI

McGulpin Point: From Mackinaw City take W. Central Ave west for 2.4 miles. It will end at an intersection with Headlands Road. Turn right and drive a half mile until you reach the lake. There will be a parking area on your left. The counter is usually on the beach just to the right of the parking area.

Graham Point:  From St. Ignace take the I-75 Business Loop (BL) to Ferry Ln.  Turn south on Ferry Ln. (just east of the Family Fare Supermarket and Family Dollar) and drive 0.7 miles until Ferry Ln. ends at an intersection with N. State St. (you should see a giant painted snowplow).  Turn right onto N. State St. and drive 0.4 miles down the hill to the south end of N. State St. where it ends at the water’s edge.  The counter is usually on the beach just in front of you.

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