Bird Checklist

for Belle Isle Park

Wayne County, Michigan

245 species

Last updated - October 1, 2013

Belle Isle is a 985-acre island in the Detroit River about three miles from downtown Detroit. The island is nearly 3 miles long, and it varies from 0.5 to 0.9 miles in width. A one-way road goes around the perimeter of the island, and there are interior canals, roads, and trails, as well. There are three small lakes on the island and also a lagoon.

Through a joint effort with the Detroit Zoological Institute and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks the doors of the Belle Isle Nature Center, once closed, have been reopened and interpretive programs are once again going on (April 2006). The inside has been renovated to make the Nature Center a great destination for birders when they visit the island.

Belle Isle Park is a Detroit city park. It was designed in the late 1800s by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. See the Friends of Belle Isle web site for information about the attractions and history of this unique urban park.

NEWS FLASH!   Oct. 1, 2013 - Belle Isle to see $10 million in upgrades under state lease deal

This birding site and its location are further described at the bottom of this document.

Checklist of the Birds of Belle Isle

The checklist below was constructed by Allen Chartier with input from many birders, past and present, and includes historical records. A list of 232 species through 2005 is documented in his Belle Isle Bird Surveys - 2005 (Appendix A) and is used here with permission. The 2005 survey was sponsored by DTE Energy. The Michigan Bird Records Committee (MBRC) has reviewed and approved this checklist. MBRC Review List species are in blue (Casual and Accidental in the state). Despite MBRC involvement in its preparation this list is not what could be called an official checklist.

Species listed below as Casual are represented by two to five known records on Belle Isle. Species listed as Accidental are represented by a single record for the island. See the Belle Isle Annotated Bird List by Allen Chartier for a complete accounting of status, seasonal occurrence, and breeding for all species. (Definitions are at the end of the document.)

Additional records, historical or current, are welcome and should be reported to Allen Chartier.


English NameScientific Name
  Greater White-fronted Goose [Casual]  Anser albifrons
  Snow Goose  Chen caerulescens
  Ross's Goose [Accidental]  Chen rossii
  Brant [Accidental]  Branta bernicla
  Cackling Goose  Branta hutchinsii
  Canada Goose  Branta canadensis
  Mute Swan  Cygnus olor
  Trumpeter Swan [Casual]  Cygnus buccinator
  Tundra Swan  Cygnus columbianus
  Wood Duck  Aix sponsa
  Gadwall  Anas strepera
  Eurasian Wigeon [Accidental]  Anas penelope
  American Wigeon  Anas americana
  American Black Duck  Anas rubripes
  Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos
  Blue-winged Teal  Anas discors
  Northern Shoveler  Anas clypeata
  Northern Pintail  Anas acuta
  Green-winged Teal  Anas crecca
  Canvasback  Aythya valisineria
  Redhead  Aythya americana
  Ring-necked Duck  Aythya collaris
  Greater Scaup  Aythya marila
  Lesser Scaup  Aythya affinis
  King Eider [Accidental]  Somateria spectabilis
  Surf Scoter  Melanitta perspicillata
  White-winged Scoter  Melanitta fusca
  Black Scoter  Melanitta americana
  Long-tailed Duck  Clangula hyemalis
  Bufflehead  Bucephala albeola
  Common Goldeneye  Bucephala clangula
  Hooded Merganser  Lophodytes cucullatus
  Common Merganser  Mergus merganser
  Red-breasted Merganser  Mergus serrator
  Ruddy Duck  Oxyura jamaicensis
  Ring-necked Pheasant  Phasianus colchicus
  Red-throated Loon [Casual]  Gavia stellata
  Common Loon  Gavia immer
  Pied-billed Grebe  Podilymbus podiceps
  Horned Grebe  Podiceps auritus
  Red-necked Grebe  Podiceps grisegena
  American White Pelican [Accidental]  Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  Double-crested Cormorant  Phalacrocorax auritus
  American Bittern [Accidental]  Botaurus lentiginosus
  Great Blue Heron  Ardea herodias
  Great Egret  Ardea alba
  Green Heron  Butorides virescens
  Black-crowned Night-Heron  Nycticorax nycticorax
  Turkey Vulture  Cathartes aura
  Osprey  Pandion haliaetus
  Bald Eagle  Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  Northern Harrier  Circus cyaneus
  Sharp-shinned Hawk  Accipiter striatus
  Cooper's Hawk  Accipiter cooperii
  Northern Goshawk [Accidental]  Accipiter gentilis
  Red-shouldered Hawk [Casual]  Buteo lineatus
  Broad-winged Hawk  Buteo platypterus
  Red-tailed Hawk  Buteo jamaicensis
  American Kestrel  Falco sparverius
  Merlin  Falco columbarius
  Peregrine Falcon  Falco peregrinus
  Virginia Rail [Accidental]  Rallus limicola
  Sora [Accidental]  Porzana carolina
  American Coot  Fulica americana
  Sandhill Crane [Accidental]  Grus canadensis
PLOVERS and LAPWINGSCharadriidae
  Black-bellied Plover  Pluvialis squatarola
  American Golden-Plover [Casual]  Pluvialis dominica
  Semipalmated Plover  Charadrius semipalmatus
  Killdeer  Charadrius vociferus
  Spotted Sandpiper  Actitis macularius
  Solitary Sandpiper  Tringa solitaria
  Greater Yellowlegs  Tringa melanoleuca
  Lesser Yellowlegs  Tringa flavipes
  Marbled Godwit [Accidental]  Limosa fedoa
  Ruddy Turnstone  Arenaria interpres
  Red Knot [Accidental]  Calidris canutus
  Sanderling  Calidris alba
  Semipalmated Sandpiper  Calidris pusilla
  Least Sandpiper  Calidris minutilla
  White-rumped Sandpiper [Casual]  Calidris fuscicollis
  Pectoral Sandpiper  Calidris melanotos
  Dunlin  Calidris alpina
  Short-billed Dowitcher  Limnodromus griseus
  Long-billed Dowitcher [Accidental]  Limnodromus scolopaceus
  Wilson's Snipe  Gallinago delicata
  American Woodcock  Scolopax minor
  Black-legged Kittiwake [Casual]  Rissa tridactyla
  Bonaparte's Gull  Chroicocephalus philadelphia
  Little Gull [Accidental]  Hydrocoloeus minutus
  Franklin's Gull [Casual]  Leucophaeus pipixcan
  Ring-billed Gull  Larus delawarensis
  Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
  Thayer's Gull [Casual]  Larus thayeri
  Iceland Gull [Casual]  Larus glaucoides
  Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus
  Glaucous Gull  Larus hyperboreus
  Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus
  Caspian Tern  Hydroprogne caspia
  Black Tern  Chlidonias niger
  Common Tern  Sterna hirundo
  Forster's Tern  Sterna forsteri
SKUAS and JAEGERSStercorariidae
  Pomarine Jaeger [Accidental]  Stercorarius pomarinus
  Parasitic Jaeger [Casual]  Stercorarius parasiticus
PIGEONS and DOVESColumbidae
  Rock Pigeon  Columba livia
  Mourning Dove  Zenaida macroura
  Yellow-billed Cuckoo  Coccyzus americanus
  Black-billed Cuckoo  Coccyzus erythropthalmus
  Eastern Screech-Owl  Megascops asio
  Great Horned Owl  Bubo virginianus
  Snowy Owl [Casual]  Bubo scandiacus
  Northern Saw-whet Owl  Aegolius acadicus
  Common Nighthawk  Chordeiles minor
  Chimney Swift  Chaetura pelagica
  Ruby-throated Hummingbird  Archilochus colubris
  Belted Kingfisher  Megaceryle alcyon
  Red-headed Woodpecker  Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  Red-bellied Woodpecker  Melanerpes carolinus
  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  Sphyrapicus varius
  Downy Woodpecker  Picoides pubescens
  Hairy Woodpecker  Picoides villosus
  Northern Flicker  Colaptes auratus
  Pileated Woodpecker [Accidental]  Dryocopus pileatus
  Olive-sided Flycatcher [Casual]  Contopus cooperi
  Eastern Wood-Pewee  Contopus virens
  Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  Empidonax flaviventris
  Acadian Flycatcher [Casual]  Empidonax virescens
  Willow Flycatcher  Empidonax traillii
  Least Flycatcher  Empidonax minimus
  Eastern Phoebe  Sayornis phoebe
  Great Crested Flycatcher  Myiarchus crinitus
  Eastern Kingbird  Tyrannus tyrannus
  Northern Shrike [Casual]  Lanius excubitor
  White-eyed Vireo [Casual]  Vireo griseus
  Yellow-throated Vireo  Vireo flavifrons
  Blue-headed Vireo  Vireo solitarius
  Warbling Vireo  Vireo gilvus
  Philadelphia Vireo  Vireo philadelphicus
  Red-eyed Vireo  Vireo olivaceus
  Blue Jay  Cyanocitta cristata
  American Crow  Corvus brachyrhynchos
  Horned Lark  Eremophila alpestris
  Purple Martin  Progne subis
  Tree Swallow  Tachycineta bicolor
  Northern Rough-winged Swallow  Stelgidopteryx serripennis
  Bank Swallow  Riparia riparia
  Cliff Swallow  Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  Barn Swallow  Hirundo rustica
  Black-capped Chickadee  Poecile atricapillus
  Boreal Chickadee [Accidental]  Poecile hudsonica
  Tufted Titmouse  Baeolophus bicolor
  Red-breasted Nuthatch  Sitta canadensis
  White-breasted Nuthatch  Sitta carolinensis
  Brown Creeper  Certhia americana
  Carolina Wren  Thryothorus ludovicianus
  House Wren  Troglodytes aedon
  Winter Wren  Troglodytes hiemalis
  Marsh Wren [Casual]  Cistothorus palustris
  Golden-crowned Kinglet  Regulus satrapa
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet  Regulus calendula
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  Polioptila caerulea
  Eastern Bluebird  Sialia sialis
  Veery  Catharus fuscescens
  Gray-cheeked Thrush  Catharus minimus
  Swainson's Thrush  Catharus ustulatus
  Hermit Thrush  Catharus guttatus
  Wood Thrush  Hylocichla mustelina
  American Robin  Turdus migratorius
  Gray Catbird  Dumetella carolinensis
  Northern Mockingbird [Accidental]  Mimus polyglottos
  Brown Thrasher  Toxostoma rufum
  European Starling  Sturnus vulgaris
WAGTAILS and PIPITSMotacillidae
  American Pipit  Anthus rubescens
  Bohemian Waxwing [Casual]  Bombycilla garrulus
  Cedar Waxwing  Bombycilla cedrorum
  Lapland Longspur  Calcarius lapponicus
  Snow Bunting  Plectrophenax nivalis
  Blue-winged Warbler  Vermivora pinus
  Golden-winged Warbler  Vermivora chrysoptera
  Tennessee Warbler  Oreothlypis peregrina
  Orange-crowned Warbler  Oreothlypis celata
  Nashville Warbler  Oreothlypis ruficapilla
  Northern Parula  Parula americana
  Yellow Warbler  Dendroica petechia
  Chestnut-sided Warbler  Dendroica pensylvanica
  Magnolia Warbler  Dendroica magnolia
  Cape May Warbler  Dendroica tigrina
  Black-throated Blue Warbler  Dendroica caerulescens
  Yellow-rumped Warbler  Dendroica coronata
  Black-throated Green Warbler  Dendroica virens
  Blackburnian Warbler  Dendroica fusca
  Pine Warbler  Dendroica pinus
  Palm Warbler  Dendroica palmarum
  Bay-breasted Warbler  Dendroica castanea
  Blackpoll Warbler  Dendroica striata
  Cerulean Warbler [Casual]  Dendroica cerulea
  Black-and-white Warbler  Mniotilta varia
  American Redstart  Setophaga ruticilla
  Prothonotary Warbler [Casual]  Protonotaria citrea
  Worm-eating Warbler [Accidental]  Helmitheros vermivorum
  Ovenbird  Seiurus aurocapilla
  Northern Waterthrush  Parkesia noveboracensis
  Louisiana Waterthrush [Casual]  Parkesia motacilla
  Kentucky Warbler [Accidental]  Oporornis formosus
  Connecticut Warbler [Casual]  Oporornis agilis
  Mourning Warbler  Oporornis philadelphia
  Common Yellowthroat  Geothlypis trichas
  Hooded Warbler [Casual]  Wilsonia citrina
  Wilson's Warbler  Wilsonia pusilla
  Canada Warbler  Wilsonia canadensis
  Yellow-breasted Chat [Accidental]  Icteria virens
  Summer Tanager [Accidental]  Piranga rubra
  Scarlet Tanager  Piranga olivacea
  Eastern Towhee  Pipilo erythrophthalmus
  American Tree Sparrow  Spizella arborea
  Chipping Sparrow  Spizella passerina
  Clay-colored Sparrow [Accidental]  Spizella pallida
  Field Sparrow  Spizella pusilla
  Vesper Sparrow [Casual]  Pooecetes gramineus
  Savannah Sparrow  Passerculus sandwichensis
  Fox Sparrow  Passerella iliaca
  Song Sparrow  Melospiza melodia
  Lincoln's Sparrow  Melospiza lincolnii
  Swamp Sparrow  Melospiza georgiana
  White-throated Sparrow  Zonotrichia albicollis
  White-crowned Sparrow  Zonotrichia leucophrys
  Golden-crowned Sparrow [Accidental]  Zonotrichia atricapilla
  Dark-eyed Junco  Junco hyemalis
CARDINALS and ALLIESCardinalidae
  Northern Cardinal  Cardinalis cardinalis
  Rose-breasted Grosbeak  Pheucticus ludovicianus
  Indigo Bunting  Passerina cyanea
  Bobolink  Dolichonyx oryzivorus
  Red-winged Blackbird  Agelaius phoeniceus
  Eastern Meadowlark  Sturnella magna
  Yellow-headed Blackbird [Accidental]  Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
  Rusty Blackbird  Euphagus carolinus
  Common Grackle  Quiscalus quiscula
  Brown-headed Cowbird  Molothrus ater
  Orchard Oriole [Casual]  Icterus spurius
  Baltimore Oriole  Icterus galbula
FINCHES and ALLIESFringillidae
  Purple Finch  Carpodacus purpureus
  House Finch  Carpodacus mexicanus
  White-winged Crossbill [Casual]  Loxia leucoptera
  Common Redpoll [Casual]  Carduelis flammea
  Pine Siskin  Carduelis pinus
  American Goldfinch  Carduelis tristis
  House Sparrow  Passer domesticus

The checklist above does not include the ten birds below, eight of which Allen Chartier describes in Belle Isle Bird Surveys - 2005 as "Hypothetical and Rejected Species." (See that document for more detail than is given below. Wild Turkey was found at Belle Isle in April 2007 and so is not described in the 2005 survey document. A flyover Whooping Crane was seen in April 2009.)

1Aythya hybrid; near the Detroit Yacht Club, January 10 to February 12, 1989; may have been Tufted Duck X Greater Scaup hybrid or Ring-necked Duck X Lesser Scaup hybrid

2Harlequin Duck - an individual that was reported on the Detroit River at Windsor on March 16, 1969, by A. Kelley may have been in the vicinity of Belle Isle; there is a second possible record of this species, but no published reference can be found

3Wild Turkey - seven, a male and six females, were reported on April 18, 2007, by Richard Kik, Naturalist at the Belle Isle Nature Zoo; since there is uncertainty on the origin of these birds, they are assigned here to the hypothetical list

4Least Bittern - included on Belle Isle Checklist (Belle Isle Nature Center 2005), but questionable

5Little Blue Heron - a possible sighting on the May 2005 NAMC was insufficiently documented, so the species must be considered hypothetical for Belle Isle

6Whooping Crane (uncountable) - Gerald Sniderman on April 4, 2009, saw a flyover of three Sandhill Cranes and a Whooping Crane.

7Short-eared Owl - date and location of a sighting that may have been at Belle Isle is lacking, so for now this species is considered hypothetical for Belle Isle

8Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - a report for Belle Isle on May 9, 1982, was insufficiently documented for the species to be included with confidence on the checklist

9Loggerhead Shrike - included on Belle Isle Checklist (Belle Isle Nature Center 2005), but questionable

10Brewer's Blackbird - various considerations suggest possible misidentification in a report of four on the May 2005 NAMC; better documentation is needed

The above list is not an official checklist, but it can be considered a reliable guide to the birds that may be found at Belle Isle Park.


from Allen Chartier's report: Belle Isle Bird Surveys - 2005

I would like to thank Roberta Urbani at DTE Energy for accepting this proposal to conduct bird surveys on Belle Isle during 2005. I would also like to thank Suzan Campbell for her assistance in getting this proposal to the appropriate contacts. In addition, I appreciate the efforts of the following observers who provided additional bird sightings throughout 2005, and some historical records: Joe Agius, Joe Bartell, Paul Berrigan, Martin Blagdurn, Cathy Carroll, Andy Dettling, William H. Fissell, Jim Fowler, Neil Gilbert, Paul Hudson, Roni Hutchinson, Scott Jennex, Richard Kik IV, Roger Kuhlman, Dick Leasure, Ed Lewandowski, Larry Modesitt, Greg Norwood, Jan Olesen, Karl Overman, Jan Palland, Steve Santner, Tom Shehan, Tim Smart, Jerry Sniderman, Ray Stocking, Dave Washington, Sue Wright.

I would also like to thank Martin Blagdurn for providing data for past CBCs, and thanks to past participants on CBCs (1990, 1993-1996, 2001, 2005): Joe Agius, Leon Beitz, Dick Benoit, Martin Blagdurn, Suzan Campbell, Robert Healy, Becky Johnson, Elizabeth Johnson, Rosann Kovalcik, Dick Leasure, Mike Mencotti.

Other List Contributors

The Michigan Bird Records Committee (MBRC) has reviewed and approved this bird checklist for Belle Isle. The MBRC will be consulted regarding addition of any future records to the checklist.

Any birder who has a species for Belle Isle that is not in the above checklist is invited to submit it for inclusion. Please write to the MBRC, Allen Chartier, and me. Review list species should be well documented (see the Michigan Rare Bird Report Form). Photo records, if obtainable, are important.


Belle Isle Park, a Detroit city park, is an island in the Detroit River. The Detroit River is oriented east-west there and is adjacent to downtown Detroit. The island lies just three miles east from the city's hub. Access to Belle Isle is by way of Douglas MacArthur Bridge, and it is reached easily from the north, east, or west. There is no direct access from Canada, on the south side of the river.

See location maps.


From I-94, take I-75 south (Exit 216A). Stay in a center lane and, after 1.6 miles, continue straight ahead where I-75 goes to the right. Here the freeway becomes I-375 (signposted as Exit 51C but not a true exit). Continue another 0.75 mile to the exit on the right for Jefferson Avenue East. Stay in the center lane and continue across Congress Avenue and Jefferson Avenue westbound (two traffic lights). Continue around the curve left onto Jefferson Avenue eastbound at the third traffic light. From here, go east on Jefferson Avenue for 2.0 miles to the turn on the right for Belle Isle (small white sign). Alternatively, you can take US-10 (Lodge Freeway) South (Exit 215A) from I-94, which ends at Jefferson Avenue, which you can then follow for about 2.75 miles east to the turn for Belle Isle. Do not leave valuables in your car anywhere in this area.  [from A Birder's Guide to Michigan]

To Belle Isle Park from Ann Arbor: (1) M14 east, becoming I-96; (2) follow I-96, Downtown, to the heart of town; (3) M10 South (the Lodge Freeway), becoming E. Jefferson; (4) E. Jefferson northeast to the Belle Isle bridge

To Ann Arbor from Belle Isle Park: (1) retrace E. Jefferson to M10 North; (2) keep left and soon switch to Grand River Ave.; (3) Grand River becomes I-96; (4) follow I-96 to M14


  Location maps
  Belle Isle Park map


The following short description was excerpted, with permission, from the five pages on Belle Isle Park in A Birder's Guide to Michigan (2004), by Allen T. Chartier and Jerry Ziarno.

The Detroit River has long been a migration corridor for waterfowl and landbirds. Belle Isle is one of the only remaining forested areas along this now industrialized pathway and is Detroit's version of New York's Central Park. In addition to being a good migration oasis, the park contains a number of plants that are extremely rare elsewhere in Michigan but which are very common here. These include Shumard Oak and Pumpkin Ash trees as well as, surprisingly, 200 acres of old-growth forest. The threatened Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus), a small catfish, and Prairie Ladies Tresses, an orchid, have both been found here.

After crossing the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Bridge (0.75 mile long and known to birders simply as the Belle Isle Bridge), bear right onto Sunset Road (0.0 mile), which is a one-way road that runs counterclockwise around the perimeter of the island, and which changes names four times! The first pullout on the right (0.2 mile) is a good place to check the river for Red-necked (rare in February/March and October/November) and Horned Grebes and numerous ducks, and to scan the swallows overhead for Cliff Swallows, which nest under the nearby MacArthur Bridge.

[ . . . . . ]

At mile 3.3 on the left is the [reopened] Belle Isle Nature Center [...] and a parking area. [...] Restrooms are available [at the Nature Center and] across from the Aquarium, behind the Police Station, and at the Casino. Park here and walk (do not leave valuables in your car). The trees immediately adjacent to the parking are often a good place to see Red-headed Woodpecker, even in winter. A short trail system begins directly behind the Nature [Center] and leads to some of the quieter roads in the well-wooded center of the island. These roads typically have less traffic than the main perimeter road. The best spots are the wooded areas along Central Avenue and Shadow Nook. These wet woodlands are excellent in spring migration for numerous flycatchers, vireos, kinglets, thrushes, warblers, and sparrows, with the month of May being the best. Virtually every regularly occurring migrant warbler has occurred here, and unusual species such as Prothonotary, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Hooded Warblers have turned up. Northern Waterthrush is annual and Louisiana Waterthrush is occasional. After a wave of migrants moves in, it can seem that every treetop has a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Indigo Bunting, or a Baltimore Oriole. Most of these birds do not nest here, but in September the migration commences again and is likely to be as productive, though the island is little birded at this time of year.

A Birder's Guide to Michigan describes all the birding areas at Belle Isle Park, including trails, the Scott Memorial Fountain, Lake Tahoma, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and Fishing Pier #9, the soccer field, the Model Yacht Basin, Lake Okonoka, the South Fishing Pier, the U.S. Coast Guard Station, Blue Heron Lagoon, Lake Muskoday, the Detroit Yacht Club, and the Bathhouse and Water Slide.


Belle Isle Park is open year round from dawn to dusk. There is parking at the Belle Isle Nature Center. Restrooms are available there and across from the Aquarium, behind the Police Station, and at the Casino.

There is no entrance fee for Belle Isle Park.

Call 313-852-4075 for additional information.

Bruce M. Bowman, 2150 Spruceway Ln., Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103   /  (734) 994-5398
Bird Checklist for Belle Isle Park Bird Checklist for Belle Isle Park     top    home

created by / comments to:  Bruce M. Bowman

created: February 15, 2006
last modified: October 1, 2013

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