Common Wildlife

Common Wildlife around Muskegon Lake

The natural areas around Muskegon Lake support a wide array of fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They rely on the habitat in and around the lake for food, cover, and reproduction. One of the primary reasons we manage the habitat around the lake is to support the wildlife populations, so it’s important that we understand the connection between the wildlife and the natural communities where they live.


Eastern American Toad Bufo americanus

Eastern American toads are highly variable in color ranging from tan, brown, or reddish brown with bumps covering the back, sides, and legs. They are known as habitat generalists and occupy open woodlands and forest edges, prairies, meadows, marshes, suburban areas, and agricultural land.

Eastern American Toad Red Bufo americanus

Eastern American toads are highly variable in color ranging from tan, brown, or reddish brown with bumps covering the back, sides, and legs. They are known as habitat generalists and occupy open woodlands and forest edges, prairies, meadows, marshes, suburban areas, and agricultural land.

Blue Spotted Salamander Ambystoma laterale

Black or grayish overall with blue spots and flecks covering their sides, legs, tail, and sometimes back. They are common under decaying logs within deciduous and coniferous forests, from moist, lowland areas to drier upland forests with sandy soils.

Eastern Tiger Salamander Ambystoma tigrinum

Yellowish green with dark black or brown blotches covering the back, legs, sides, and tail. Occupies woodlands but is less dependent on closed canopy habitats than other salamanders. Prefers more open habitats including marshes, grasslands, farmlands, and suburban areas. Must have access to permanent and semipermanent ponds for breeding, preferably with an absence of fish.

Green Frog Rana clamitans melanota

Varies from green to brown in color and often has dark spotting on the back and sides. Similar to a bull frog in coloring but possesses a dorsolateral fold (raised ridge of skin) extending from eye half-way down the back. Known to inhabit ponds, lakes, swamps, sloughs, impoundments, and slow streams. More tolerant of open, sparsely vegetated areas than other frogs. Usually avoids shallow and temporary bodies of water.

Bull Frog Rana catesbeianna

Similar to green frog with coloration varying from green to brown but is much larger in stature and does not have the dorsolateral ridge (ridge of skin extending from eye down the back). Occupies any still, permanent body of water, especially in areas with ample submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation

Northern Leopard Frog Rana pipiens

Northern leopard frogs can be green, greenish brown, or brown to copper, with a number of round dark spots covering the back and dark bars on the legs. They are a rarer frog species throughout the Muskegon Lake area, but can be found in open habitats such as marshes, bogs, lake and stream edges, fields, meadows, and suburban lawns.

Northern Spring Peeper Pseudacris crucifer

Spring peepers can be brown, tan, or gray and are easily distinguished by their small stature and a dark “x” on their back. They inhabit temporary and permanent ponds, marshes, flooded areas, and ditches during breeding season, after which they will disperse into woodlands, old fields, and shrubby areas.

Spotted Salamander Ambystoma maculatum

Black, dark-gray, or dark brown with two rows of bright yellow spots running from the back of the head to the tail. Prefers moist, deciduous or mixed woodlands with closed canopies. Usually avoids swampy forests where flooding occurs and is uncommon or absent in recently disturbed forests. Must be near temporary or semi-permanent ponds for breeding.

Wood Frog Rana sylvatica

Brown, grayish brown, bronze, reddish, or tan with a dark “mask” covering the eyes. Lives in moist woodlands, including deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests and typically prefers closed canopy areas.


American Coot Fulica americana

The American coot is a black water bird with a rounded head, red eyes, and a white sloping bill with a black ring at the tip. The lobed toes of the American coot easily distinguish this bird from other waterfowl, and they can be seen in lakes and ponds with ample vegetation.

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

The bald eagle is a very large raptor with a brown body and an unmistakable white head and white tail. The beak is yellow and hooked. They are known to inhabit areas near lakes, rivers, marshes, and coasts.

Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon

Belted kingfishers are common along streams and shorelines across North America. The large head and beak are the most distinguishable features, accompanied by the grayish blue and white coloration of their feathers. The females are more vibrant and have a broad rusty band on their bellies. This species is most often seen perched along streams, lakes, and rivers.

Canada Goose Branta canadensis

The Canada goose is a very common species that in large in stature with a long, black neck and a white cheek patch. The body is brown with a whitish chest and undertail. It can be seen swimming in open water, resting near the shore, or grazing on lawns or farm fields.

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias

Great blue herons are known for their subtle blue-gray plumage and their presence around ponds, lakes, rivers, and any body of water with an ample supply of fish. They possess an orangish yellow bill and a black crown and head plumes.

Greater Scaup Aythya marila

The greater scaup is a medium sized diving duck with an iridescent green, rounded head and yellow eyes. The sides are white and contrast the dark head, chest and rear. Known to inhabit coastal waters during the winter and utilize the Great Lakes during the summer.

Green Heron Butorides virescens

The green heron is much smaller and stockier than the more common great blue heron with a velvet green back, chestnut body, and a dark cap often raised into a short crest. They have thin, orange legs and while their plumage is striking, they can be difficult to spot. They mostly reside along the shoreline within the vegetation of lakes, streams, and rivers.

Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris

Marsh wrens are a small bird species with a rusty-brown body with black and white streaks down the back and a white eyebrow. They are known for hanging onto the vegetation while calling out to other birds. They are typically seen in marsh habitats.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

The mallard is one of the most common waterfowl throughout the Great Lakes region. The male’s bright green head, gray flanks, and black tail curl are easily distinguishable. They live in a variety of habitats including ponds, marshes, and sometimes even swimming pools.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Ospreys are a common sight near shorelines, rivers, lakes, and anywhere there is an ample amount of fish to prey upon. They are a large raptor species with a brown back, brown wings, and white underparts. The head is white, and the beak is strongly hooked.

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Herring gulls are the most common gulls of the North Atlantic. They are similar in coloration to the ring-billed gull, but instead of a ring around the bill they possess a red dot on the lower half of the bill. The legs are also pink as opposed to yellow. They can be seen soaring along coastal shorelines, beaches, or wherever humans frequent.

Red-Breasted Merganser Mergus serrator

The red-breasted merganser is a shaggy-headed diving duck. The males possess a dark green shaggy head, red bill and eyes, and a rusty chest. The coloration of the female is toned down, but they also have the shaggy crest. Can be seen near the shores of inland lakes in the winter during migration.

Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus

Hooded mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers throughout Michigan. The males have black, white, and cinnamon coloring, while the females display more muted brown coloring with a cinnamon crest. Males are distinguished by their crest that, when opened, displays a large black and white pattern.

Spotted Sandpiper Actitus macularius

The spotted sandpiper is a medium sized shorebird with a unique bobbing behavior. It possesses a light brown plumage along the back and is white on the belly accompanied by dark spots. They can be seen alone or in pairs along the shores of lakes, rivers, and streams.

Red-Winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

Very abundant throughout the Muskegon Lake area. The males are black bodied with scarlet and yellow elbow patches and the females are muted in color, with a streaky brown pattern covering their body. Males become territorial during the nesting season, and they are typically found atop cattails, along soggy roadsides, and on telephone wires.

Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis

The least bittern is a small heron with a long, pointed, yellow bill and hunchbacked appearance. Males are more brightly colored than females and have a dark green crown and back. The chest is striped chestnut and white. They can be seen within the vegetation in a marsh or lake.

Sedge Wren Cistothorus platensis

Sedge wrens are a smaller, more secretive wren species that are unpredictable and may be present one year and absent the next. They possess a round whitish belly, a brown streaked back, and banded wings.

Trumpter Swan Cygnus buccinator

Trumpeter swans are Michigan’s largest waterfowl species. The body of the swan is white and is accompanied by a black beak, black legs, and a straight neck. Trumpeter swans are commonly confused with mute swans, which have orange bills, orange legs, and a curved neck. Trumpeter swans can be seen in shallow ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes.

Wood Duck Aix sponsa

Wood ducks are an unmistakable species with their iridescent plumage. Every feather on the male has an ornate pattern, while the females are more muted with iridescent blue on the wings and a white ring around the eyes. Can be found nesting in trees in swampy areas or along the shoreline.


Walleye Sander vitreus

Yellow-greenish in appearance with two dorsal fins that are separated into a spiny and a soft-rayed portion. Also possesses a large, cloudy eye and white tips on anal and lower fins. Prefers clear, deep inland lakes.

Yellow Perch Perca flavescens

Yellow sides with seven blackish bars on the sides, and two dorsal fins separated into spiny and soft-rayed portions. Prefers relatively shallow waters near the shore during the day to feed and rests on the bottom at night.

White Bass Morone chrysops

Commonly mistaken for white perch but possesses white longitudinal lines on the sides and two dorsal fins that are separated into spiny and soft-rayed portions. The lower jaw projects beyond the upper jaw. Lives in a variety of habitat types and is a very mobile species, capable of traveling over 100 miles.

Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus

Similar to white crappie in appearance but more randomly speckled and has 7-8 dorsal spines. Tends to inhabit clear water lakes with substantial weed beds.

Brown Trout Salmo trutta

Brown-yellow body with red-orange spots along the sides that have a blue gray “halo” and dark spots on the back and top fins. A distinguishable feature is a broad, square tongue with 11-12 large teeth and a square tail. Earlier in the year it is found in shallow, rocky, boulder-strewn areas and resides near stream outlets later in the year.

Lake Sturgeon Acipenser fulvescans

Threatened in Michigan. Light gray in color with a large, suctorial mouth on the bottom side of the head with barbels. Appears scaleless but possesses much stronger scales than most typical fish. Inhabits large river and lake systems with a depth of 16-29 feet. Also found in brackish waters.

Great Lakes Muskellunge Esox masquinongy Esox masquinongy

Long, cylindrical body with a soft dorsal fin and powerful jaws shaped like a duck’s bill. Lighter body with dark spots along entire body, fins and tail. Can be found in deep waters but is most likely found under a drop-off or other underwater structure.

Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides

Body usually light green with a dark lateral streak and two dorsal fins with a deep notch between spinous and soft-rayed portions. The body is longer than deep with an upper jaw that extends beyond the rear of the eye. Most active in warm waters shallower than 20 feet and prefers clear waters with little to no current.

Flathead Catfish Pylodictus olivaris

Scaleless fish with deeply forked tail, two dorsal fins, barbels, and a slender body with speckled sides. Found statewide in both lakes and streams. The young typically inhabit shallow riffles and the adults reside in deep pools with log jams during the day and move into shallow water at night.

Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss

Like salmon and brown trout in appearance, but possess two dorsal fins, light-colored gums, and spots along the rays on entire tail. Prefers clear, inland lake systems.

Northern Pike Esox lucius

Darker bodied with light colored spots and a single dorsal fin. Long body and large jaws that possess 5-6 pores on the underside. Found in weedy shallows of rivers or log jams.

Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu

Like largemouth bass in coloration with bronze streaks in cheeks and a jaw that extends to the middle of the eye. Found in rocky habitat and rivers.


Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus

Large rodent about 1-2 feet in length with a stocky body, rounded head, and a long, scaly black tail. Possesses reddish-brown to dark brown fur, small ears and tiny eyes. Resides in swamps, marshes, rivers, ponds, lakes, drainage ditches, and canals. Prefers an area with 4-6 feet of water with open canals for travel.

American Mink Neovison vison

Possesses a long, sleek body about 2 feet in length that is covered in dark brown fur with a white patch on the chin and/or neck. Known to live in forested areas near streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes.

White-Tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

Tan or brown in the summer and grayish brown in the winter. Possesses white on throat, around the eyes and nose, on the stomach, and underside of the tail. Very common throughout the Muskegon Lake area and lives in wooded areas.

Black Bear Ursus americanus

Black or dark brown fur with a light brown snout, flat shoulders, and tall, rounded ears. Occupies both coniferous and deciduous forested areas.

Coyote Canis latrans

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and use a wide range of habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and swamps. They are typically excluded from areas with wolves. Coyotes, because of their tolerance for human activities, also occur in suburban, agricultural, and urban settings.

Gray Fox Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Peppery gray on top with reddish brown sides, chest, and back of its head. Possesses a long, bushy tail with a black stripe on top, pointy ears, and a pointed muzzle. Can be seen in a wide variety of habitats but prefers areas with substantial brush or woods.


Five-Lined Skink Plestiodon fasciatus

The five-lined skink is distinguished by the five yellowish or cream-colored stripes that run from the snout down the back, sides, and tail. Juveniles and females have a metallic blue tail, while males have a gray tail. Inhabits woodlands or partially wooded areas with adequate cover and basking sites, but prefers clearings and woodland edges.

Five-Lined Skink Brown Plestiodon fasciatus

The five-lined skink is distinguished by the five yellowish or cream-colored stripes that run from the snout down the back, sides, and tail. Juveniles and females have a metallic blue tail, while males have a gray tail. Inhabits woodlands or partially wooded areas with adequate cover and basking sites, but prefers clearings and woodland edges.

Northern Ribbon Snake Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis

The northern ribbon snake is a common snake species that possesses a dark brown or black body with three yellow, greenish yellow, or white stripes extending from the back of the head down to the tail. Distinguishable by the white or yellow bar in front of the eye. Dwells along edges of lakes, ponds, bogs, streams, and marshes especially where low vegetation occurs.

Painted Turtle Chrysemys picta

Black or olive carapace with red bars and a thin, red stripe down the middle of the back. The plastron is yellow with black blotches and the head, throat, and legs have yellow and red stripes. Inhabits quiet or slow-moving permanent waters with a soft bottom substrate, abundant aquatic plants, and basking sites.

Black Rat Snake Pantherophis obsoleta obsolete

The black rat snake is uncommon to rare throughout the Great Lakes region. It has a black or dark brown body with a white mouth, chin, and throat. The underside is white or yellow with a dark checkerboard pattern near the head. Known to inhabit woodlands or open areas adjacent to forests such as shrubby fields, pastures, hedgerows, and bog edges and sometimes live in human dwellings.

Blanding’s Turtle Emydoidea blandingii

Black or brown carapace with highly variable pattern of tan or yellowish spots or streaks. Plastron yellowish with dark blotches at outer rear edge of each scute and yellow chin and neck. Found in shallow waters such as ponds, marshes, swamps, and lake inlets.

Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene carolina carolina

Uncommon to rare and steadily declining throughout the Great Lakes region. Carapace usually brown or yellow with pattern of yellow spots, blotches, and lines. The plastron is hinged and can be yellow, black, or a combination of the two. The males have red eyes and the females have a brown or yellow eye. Inhabits deciduous or mixed woodlands, fields, pastures, vegetated dunes, marshes, and bog edges with sandy soils. Prefers access to water and open hardwood forests.

Common Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentine

Brown, black, or olive carapace with sharp ridges that are often covered in algae or mud. Larger than other turtle species in this region. Plastron is small and cross shaped, leaving much of the legs exposed. Possesses two barbels on the chin and a pointed snout. Dwells in permanent bodies of water with a mud bottom and aquatic vegetation.

Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

The eastern garter snake is a very common species throughout the Great Lakes region. It sports three pale stripes varying from yellow, greenish, blue, or white in color on a black, brown, or gray background. The chin, throat, and belly are yellow in color. Inhabits a wide range of habitats, but prefers moist grassy areas near ponds, lakes, ditches, or stream edges.

Map Turtle Graptemys geographica

Carapace olive or grayish brown with narrow, dark bordered yellowish to orange lines that may become darkened with age. Yellow plastron and head, neck, and limbs dark olive, brown, or black with many thin yellow, green, or orangish stripes. Possesses small, triangular, light-colored spot behind the eye. Inhabits larger lakes, rivers, and open marshes.

Musk Turtle Sternotherus odoratus

Smaller in size with a black carapace and a cross shaped, yellow or brownish plastron. Easily distinguishable by the large head, pointed snout, and barbels on the chin. Inhabits a wide variety of permanent waters, including ponds, lakes, marshes, and rivers. Most common in clear lakes with sand or gravel bottoms and adequate aquatic vegetation.

Red-Eared Slider Trachemys scripta elegans

Brownish or olive carapace with yellow and black bands and a plastron that is yellow in color with black blotches. A few yellow lines slant downward from the mouth and snout and a broad red stripe extends down from the eye. Inhabits ponds, lakes, ditches, sloughs, swamps and slower sections of streams and rivers. Will occupy almost any permanent body of water with basking sites and ample aquatic vegetation.

Northern Water Snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon

This species can be common but suffers decline due to human encounters. Body has a tan, brown, or gray background with a varied pattern of black, dark brown, or reddish brown crossbands and blotches on the backs and sides. Belly is white or yellowish with a pattern of half-moon marks. Known to inhabit permanent bodies of water with basking sites and open sun.

Spiny Softshell Turtle Apalone spinifera spinifera

Locally common throughout the western Great Lakes region, but uncommon in the east. Possesses a rounded carapace that is tan, brown, or olive in coloration with black spots or specks. The carapace and plastron both lack scutes and are soft and rubbery with flexible edges. The snout is turned upward and pointed like a pig snout. Inhabits rivers and larger streams with a sand or muck bottom and minimal aquatic vegetation.

Spotted Turtle Clemmys guttata

Uncommon to rare throughout the Great Lakes region. Has a brownish black carapace with round, yellow spots and a yellow or orange plastron with black blotches that can sometimes cover the entire plastron. Males have brown eyes and a dark chin, while females have orange eyes and a yellow chin. Found in shallow ponds, wet meadows, tamarack swamps, bogs, fens, marsh channels, and slow streams. Enjoys clear, shallow water with a muck bottom and ample aquatic vegetation.

Wood Turtle Glyptemys insculpta

Generally uncommon or rare throughout the Great Lakes region. Brown carapace with growth rings that make the carapace appear wooden, and a yellow plastron. Most likely to reside in or near sandy-bottomed streams or rivers but also occurs in streams with rocky beds. Mostly terrestrial during the summer and can be found in woodlands, swamps, wet meadows, and fields near floodplains.