Detroit-area birders revel in irruption year | Vitality Senior Living

Local birders Victor Dorer and Rick Forrest recently spent five hours trekking through the wintery cold at Stony Creek Metropark in search of a specific bird, called a Red Crossbill. Although the duo frequently spend their time searching for birds, the reason this day was especially important is because this bird typically spend winters much further north.

This winter is what’s called an irruption year, meaning some species of birds are forced to travel further south to find food. This year, seed production on Canada’s conifer trees is very low. Drought, fire, disease, pests and other causes reduce the trees’ production, causing the birds to look elsewhere for food.

“We are very lucky this year. This irruption year is probably the biggest one we’ve had in over 20 years. Some of the species who are normally near Hudson Bay are being spotted as far south as northern New Mexico. This is quite a year to see many different species,” Dorer said.

Along with the Red Crossbill, other bird types to be on the lookout for include the Evening Grosbeak, White Winged Crossbill, Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll, Pine Siskin, and Purple Finch.


Local birders Rick Forrest and Victor Dorer presented a seminar on birding and the 2021 irruption year recently at the Rochester Older Persons Commission.

Dorer, who has enjoyed birding as a hobby for more than 45 years and has identified countless species, has yet to see a Pine Grosebeak in person. He’s hoping that will change this year, as this species has been identified as one that has traveled south.

Dorer and Forrest recently gave a presentation at the Rochester Older Persons Commission (OPC) on birding in an irruption year. Dorer works at the OPC and Forrest is a teacher. The pair having been birding together since their days in college.

Along with the unique species of birds found in Michigan this winter, Forrest said there are several types of birds who reside in Michigan in the winter, despite the common misconception that all birds fly south when temperatures drop.


Local birders Rick Forrest and Victor Dorer presented a seminar on birding and the 2021 irruption year recently at the Rochester Older Persons Commission.

Birds that are common in Michigan in the winter include the Red- and White-breasted nuthatches, Black Capped Chick-a-dee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers, Northern Cardinal, Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, and others. Snowy owls, Coopers Hawks, and the Sandhill Cranes make their home in Michigan in the colder months as well.

The Bald Eagle is growing in numbers, Dorer said. He suggested those interested in viewing the eagle visit the Sterling State Park in Monroe near Lake Erie. He’s often observed the bird there in great numbers. “It’s a great feeding ground for them. You’ll often see them hanging in trees like vultures,” he said.

Kensington Metropark in Milford is another great location for birding, especially because the birds there are tame due to the volume of visitors at the park. Dorer even managed to feed a wild Chick-a-dee by hand. “Many families walk the trails along with their children carrying bags of seed just for feeding the birds. It requires a lot of patience and a fat, open hand to let the birds know it’s safe to land there,” said Dorer, who suggested a mix of cracked sunflower and peanuts.

Since the irruption will wane as spring approaches, Dorer said the best time to try birding is now. “The best tip I can offer for beginners is to get outdoors and look around. Birds are ubiquitous, it’s simply that most people don’t take the time to slow down and observe what is going on around them or in their own backyard,” he said. “Find a friend or a group to go on a bird walk is a great way to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. I spend many hours on my deck with my binoculars and a cup of coffee observing birds and their behaviors.”


Those interested in viewing the Bald Eagle locally should visit the Sterling State Park in Monroe near Lake Erie, according to longtime birder Victor Dorer.

For those wanting to put up a bird feeder, Dorer recommends a tube feeder with short perches. This type of feeder will deter the common starlings. Certain seed and suet attracts particular species, so Dorer recommends researching backyard feeding before shopping.

“That being said one of our favorite feeds is the shelled sunflower seeds. This seed will prevent the large amount of leftover hulls normally found in sunflower from accumulating under the feeders,” he said.

Beginning birders should look for a handheld field guide, or consider using smartphone applications. Forrest recommends the iBird Pro app because it incorporates photos, sounds, and maps. And, all birders need a reliable pair of binoculars; both Dorer and Forrest carry a pair in the trucks of their cars. “You never know what you might find, so you’ll want to be ready,” Forrest said.

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