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. 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 site is restricted. Please contact us at for opportunities to visit this research activity.


Special COVID-19 instructions for our guests:

Please respect our paid contractors, volunteers, and other guests by wearing your mask and/or staying at least six feet apart. Even though we are outdoors, exercise utmost caution because not everyone will have had vaccines.  Keep yourself and everyone there healthy.

Spring Raptor Watch Count Sites

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. The below map shows the two sites in relation to each other in Mackinaw City.

The site that is used most often early in the spring is behind the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex. 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 if 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 newest Spring site is 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 and fall (August 20th to November 10th) from 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.

The waterbird count will be conducted from 2 alternating locations, in an attempt to survey the Straits better, and determine if the previous counts from McGulpin Point do represent the entire Straits. Alternating every other day with the McGulpin Point count, we will be counting at Graham Point in St. Ignace (where the south end of N. State St. ends at the water’s edge).