Flora and Fauna of North Manitou Island

Red suns glows over the lake as it sinks toward the horizon

North Manitou Island is 7-3/4 miles (12.5 km) long by 4-1/4 miles (6.85 km) wide and has 20 miles (32 km) of shoreline. The highest point on the island is in the northwest corner, 1,001 feet (305 m) above sea level or 421 feet (128 m) above Lake Michigan. The topography varies considerably on the island. Low, sandy, open dune country on the southeast side grades into interfingering high sand hills and blowout dunes on the southwest side of the island.

Lake Manitou [elevation 675 feet (206 m)] occupies a lowland in the north central portion of the island. To the west of the lake the terrain becomes very rugged as you approach the west and northwest bluffs. The bluffs are very incised and steep between Swenson's and the Pot Holes. Its 300-foot (90 m) high face is deeply gullied by erosion.

Biology of North Manitou Island
The North Manitou wilderness environment is a reflection of the interesting wildlife and natural flora of the island. The island is one of a chain of islands between Michigan's Upper and LowerPeninsulas. Migrating birds pass from one island to another to cross Lake Michigan. These include many species of warblers and other songbirds, woodcock and snipe. The contiguous forests of the island offer shelter for these birds. Bald Eagles are also often seen flying over the island.

A piping plover on the beach
Piping plover, an endangered bird, nests on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Some beaches are home for the piping plover, which is listed as an endangered species. Although there are only about thirty (30) nesting pairs in all of the Great Lakes, 3 to 4 plover nests are found on the remote beaches of the island. These areas are closed to hikers and are marked with signs and often fence. Please do not enter these areas! The 20 miles of beach are habitat for other shore birds as well, whether they are migrating or nesting. One often sees many species of waterfowl along the shoreline, including mergansers, scaup, goldeneyes, Canada geese, and even loons.

The island does not have the variety of mammals common to the mainland. Beaver are here because they are good swimmers. White-footed mice and chipmunks have made it to the island by methods unknown; raccoons but there are no skunks or porcupines. White-tailed deer were artificially introduced in the 1920's and have greatly altered the native vegetation. At one time it was estimated that as many as 2,000 deer resided here. With reduced deer numbers, resulting from a managed hunt each fall, the forest flowers such as violets, trillium, and hepatica, as well as seedlings of white pine and cedar can be seen once again.

Three white trillium flowers stand out against the brown orest floor.
Trillium is a native flower found throughout the Lakeshore.

The island is distant from the mainland, which provides some degree of protection to the native plants from non-native invasive plants. People have accidentally carried the seeds of some non-native plants to the island, and these invasive non-native plants are unfortunately thriving. To prevent the accidental introduction of other non-native plants, such as Leafy Spurge and Garlic Mustard, we ask that you wipe your boots on mats provided on the mainland dock, to remove non-native seeds that you may be carrying. It is also important to inspect your camping gear and clothing for seeds that might be hitchhiking. Plants that become established in this manner are a true threat to the island ecology.

Last updated: February 12, 2016

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