Kirtland’s Warbler Tours

Catch a glimpse of the rare Kirtland's warbler in Grayling, Michigan, during the species' annual migration north each spring.

Kirtland's Warbler in a tree in Grayling, Michigan (photo courtesy of Kirtland's Warbler Tours)

There are around 5,000 Kirtland’s warblers in the world, and most fly each spring from the Bahamas to Northern Michigan, where they nest in young jack pine forests. Once on the brink of extinction, the tiny, blue-gray and yellow bird with black spots on its sides has made a remarkable comeback. Finding one, however, is still incredibly challenging, which makes it a Holy Grail for birders. 

The odds of seeing a Kirtland’s warbler are best in the bird’s nesting habitat in Grayling, Michigan, during late spring and early summer. Those chances greatly increase with tours of the nesting area that are offered in May and June through a partnership between the Michigan Audubon Society and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 

In the early morning, tour participants meet at Hartwick Pines State Park and caravan to the nearby nesting site. The Kirtland’s warbler nests on the ground among the rows of pines. As the group walks along, watching and listening intently, the guide hears the bird sing and points to the area from where the song came. 

Tour-takers gather around the area of the sound, waiting for the Kirtland’s warbler to fly out from its nest at the base of the pines. While they do, they keep an eye out for other birds, including the Nashville warbler and black-capped chickadee. Sometimes other migratory warblers, including palm and yellow-rumped warblers, make an appearance. Finally, a Kirtland’s warbler pops up to the top of one of the pines, giving observers an unobstructed view and the chance for those holding cameras to snap a photo. 

After the tour ends, there are opportunities to continue enjoying the forest. The Hartwick Pines Visitor Center has displays on the area’s wildlife and habitat, and just behind it is a 1.25-mile paved trail through 49 acres of Michigan’s original white pine forest. 2833 Monarch Dr., Grayling, Michigan 49738, 989/348-2537,