Past Phases


The Great Lakes Commission coordinated 5 research entities to conduct aerial surveys of selected areas of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Erie over the course of two years during the non-breeding season (fall, winter and spring). These research entities included Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Michigan Natural Features Institute (MNFI), United States Geological Survey (USGS), and Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory (WGLBBO)

Over 1.8 million individual birds were observed during both phases (2012-2014), representing at least 53 different species and at least 40 pelagic waterbird species. Surveys in Phase 2 observed fewer individuals than Phase 1, perhaps in part due to the high levels of ice coverage across the Great Lakes during the Phase 2 project period.

Five waterbird species observed comprised over 81 percent of all observations (Table 1). The most common single species observed across all surveys, the Canvasback, represented 37 percent of all birds observed.

Over twice the number of birds were observed per km of transect in Lake St. Clair (9 birds/ km) than in the other three surveyed water bodies (Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron; Table 2). Lake Erie also had relatively high effort-corrected counts during Phase 2 surveys (4.2 birds/km).

At least 17 species of birds that are protected by state or federal law in the Great Lakes region were observed during surveys. Though surveys were designed primarily for waterbirds, other species, such as Bald Eagles, were also incidentally observed. Several protected species are listed in Table 3. Other observed species with protections from one or more Great Lakes states and provinces included the American Black Duck, Common Gallinule, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Red-necked Grebe and Ruddy Duck.

Table 1. Most commonly observed species during surveys (2012-2014). Counts include all data and survey locations. Column on the far right is average the number of individuals observed per linear km of survey.

Common Name Count % of all Obs. Obs./km
Canvasback 684,900 37.4 5.8
Unidentified Scaup 442,002 24.2 3.8
Redhead 183,036 10.0 1.6
Unidentified dabbling duck 105,472 5.8 0.9
Long-tailed Duck 77,984 4.3 0.7

Table 2. Total counts of waterbirds by lake in surveys (2012-2014). Column on the far right is the number of individuals observed per linear km of transect flown.

Study Area Count Observations Per km Transect Surveyed
Lake St. Clair 1,401,982 9.0
Lake Erie 276,392 4.2
Lake Michigan 141,589 1.1
Lake Huron 9,545 0.3

Table 3. Protected species observed during surveys (2012-2014). Only species protected in at least two states or provinces in the Great Lakes region are listed.

Common Name Count Protection Status
Common Loon 1,209 Listed as threatened in Michigan and of special concern in New York
Bald Eagle 542 Protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and under several state endangered and threatened species listings
Horned Grebe 368 Endangered in Minnesota; Special Concern in Ontario
Common Tern 154 Listed as threatened or endangered by the majority of states in the Great Lakes region
Sandhill Crane 18 Endangered in Ohio; Special Concern in Indiana
Great Egret 14 Endangered in Pennsylvania; Special Concern in New York, Indiana and Ohio
Caspian Tern 6 Listed as endangered in Wisconsin and threatened in Michigan
Nothern Harrier 4 Endangered in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; Threatened in New York and Pennsylvania
American White Pelican 3 Species of special concern in Minnesota and threatened in Ontario.

Get the latest Great Lakes Commission news and events in your inbox!

Sign up for our e-newsletter

Get the latest Great Lakes Commission news and events in your inbox!