Making a Splash: Audubon Great Lakes and MI Birds At Blue Water Sturgeon Festival

In the Great Lakes, birds and fish have a lot in common

In the Great Lakes, birds and fish have a lot in common. As vital members of the Lakes’ unique ecology, they make a valuable contribution to the region’s beauty; in addition to providing enjoyment for birders, anglers, hunters, and general nature lovers alike, they signal the overall health of the environment. More pressing, however, both birds and fish need our help to survive, faced by declining populations and deteriorating habitat. This past weekend, MI Birds Ambassadors, dedicated volunteers to Michigan conservation, joined a local Audubon chapter, Detroit Audubon, to host an education table on the connection between birds and fish alongside our partner, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division, at Friends of the St. Clair River’s annual Blue Water Sturgeon Festival.

In its ninth year, the festival offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about conservation in their area and lake sturgeon, the Great Lakes’ largest native fish, which can reach up to seven feet in length and weigh as much as 150 pounds. Identified as a threatened species in North America, the fish’s numbers have declined throughout the 20th century due to over-fishing and loss of spawning sites from habitat alteration and degradation. The Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Clair River host the largest remaining population of free-roaming sturgeon with an estimated over 10,000 calling the area’s waters home, making it a prime location to celebrate the fish’s recovery.

At the festival, visitors learned more about the unique fish and efforts to protect it, engaging with sturgeon through a live touch tank, hands-on activities, workshops, and more. They even had the opportunity to participate in a sight-seeing cruise narrated by experts, offering them the chance to witness first-hand the fish’s habitat and current research activities to preserve it. 

Like lake sturgeon, birds in the Great Lakes have been threatened due to climate change and environmental degradation. In particular, migratory marsh birds like the Black Tern have been threatened by loss of wetlands and pollution from agricultural run-off. Erin Ford, Audubon Great Lakes Conservation Manager in Michigan, and Ava Landgraf, Detroit Audubon Research Coordinator, presented on Audubon’s collaborative Black Tern monitoring taking place at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area in Michigan. The Black Tern, though it winters along tropical coasts, relies on freshwater marshes in the Great Lakes for nesting and summer habitat. Numbers of this remarkable bird—known for its black and silver breeding plumage—have declined nearly 99% in Michigan alone since 1966, prompting its recent addition to the state threatened species list and adding to the demand for wetlands conservation. St. Clair Flats is home to the largest remaining Black Tern colony in Michigan. You may learn more about Black Terns by watching this webinar recording

Representatives from Audubon Great Lakes, Detroit Audubon, and MI Birds shared a motivating message on the conservation efforts and offered opportunities for Michiganders to take action.

Interested in volunteering as a Black Tern monitor and surveying historic Black Tern breeding sites? Sign-up today.

Learn how to identify Black Terns by sight and sound and submit your observations using eBird! If you observe Black Terns exhibiting nesting behavior (carrying nesting material, fish, or insects), or discover a nest, use the breeding codes available within eBird when you submit your observation. Share your eBird checklist with our Black Tern Survey eBird account: MIBLTESurvey. We rely on eBird to help fill critical data gaps to help us better understand where these birds are actively nesting and which areas are important stopover or feeding sites. 


MI Birds is a public outreach and engagement program created by Audubon Great Lakes and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which aims to increase all Michiganders' engagement in the understanding, care, and stewardship of public lands that are important for birds and local communities.

Authored by Dan Barton, Audubon Great Lakes Engagement Intern at UIC Freshwater Lab 

How you can help, right now