Picture walks: A bird in hand

By Jeanne Church

Kensington Metropark Nature Center in Milford, Michigan is a magical place! All of the birds along the trails around Wildwing Lake are acclimated to people and eagerly perch on nearby branches hoping for an outstretched hand filled with seeds.

The first time I visited Kensington to feed the birds, I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t know exactly where I was supposed to feed them. I decided to just start walking along the trail that circles the lake to see what might happen. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the birds kept landing here and there among the branches close to where I was walking. Aha, I thought, they’re expecting food and I was the human who was supposed to provide it! I reached deep down into my pocket and pulled out a handful of peanuts and seeds as my first humble offering.

The brave little chickadees were the first to take me up on my offer, followed by the titmice, the nuthatches, and the downy woodpeckers! I was absolutely smitten!  

It’s hard to describe that feeling the first time a tiny bird lands on your hand and very gently grabs your fingers with its spindly feet. I found myself holding my breath, fearing that any movement on my part would scare the bird in hand away. It’s such a moment of trust and I didn’t want to betray it.

On subsequent visits, though, I learned to keep on breathing. It’s just not that easy to frighten away a hungry bird who’s learned, through years of experience, that the humans walking through Kensington Park are basically a friendly lot.

As I continued ambling along the path, I noticed that other visitors had left small piles of seeds on many of the tree stumps and benches along the way where the bigger birds, like the blue jays and the red-bellied woodpeckers, would swoop down and grab several at a time then disappear. This prompted me to also leave small piles of seeds along the trail so that I could stand a short distance away and unobtrusively take pictures of the birds as they landed.

What I hadn’t expected to see along the path were the sandhill cranes! Apparently, these birds are also acclimated to humans, but you are not supposed to feed them! Unfortunately, a fair number of people have either not seen the posted signs or have chosen to ignore them. This lapse in awareness or judgement became abundantly clear to me when I stopped to take a picture and the cranes came hustling towards me!

The other birds you don’t want to miss at the Kensington Nature Center are the great blue herons! By the end of March or early April, the herons will start returning to Michigan. Some will be returning to the island rookery at Kensington to begin their courtship routines and nest-building activities. If you visit Kensington when the tree limbs are bare, you can easily see the huge nests from previous years scattered high among the treetops. The returning herons will either re-use these nests or build new ones.

By the beginning of May, the herons’ eggs will start to hatch; by June, the youngsters will be strong enough to fly.

Don’t miss these wonderful opportunities to hand-feed wild birds, see sandhill cranes at close range, and watch dozens of great blue herons raise their families on the island rookery!

Mark your calendars for a spring visit to Kensington Metropark Nature Center, in Milford, Michigan. Be sure to bring your camera and a pair of binoculars!


The park is on the western edge of Oakland County, just north of I-96 and a few miles east of US-23.

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