Wildlife on the Platte River

Have you witnessed the wildlife on the Platte River? From the birds in the trees to the animals hiding in the weeds, some of the most stunning wildlife in Northern Michigan can be spotted on your Riverside Canoe trip. We looked high and low to discover which creatures call Lower Platte River home. Some birds and animals are easy to find, and will be a common sight from your kayak along the Platte. Others require patience, a quiet day on the river, and a bit of luck.

We asked Jim Gribble, a local wildlife photographer to share a glimpse of the river from behind the lens. Follow us on a photographic journey showcasing the wildlife of the lower Platte River. From the easiest to spot to the most challenging to find, the Platte River wildlife is one-of-a-kind. Use this guide to teach your kids about the friendly creatures on the river, to keep them excited and interested the whole time! Let’s take a look.

Common Wildlife on the Platte River

platte river turtles

Painted Turtles

While painted turtles are stunning, they are also intelligent. Researchers have found that painted turtles have an ability that allows them to find their way back to specific locations. Look for them hanging out in groups sunning themselves on the logs along the Lower Platte River.

platte river whitetail deer

Whitetail Deer

Whitetail deer are locals around the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Fawns are born from late May to early June, so you might see a mom and her babies wandering along the Platte River during summertime. Deer prefer the shallower parts of the river, so they love the Lower Platte.

platte river wood duck

Wood Duck Drake

Do you know how to differentiate one duck from the next? The wood duck drake’s colorful feathers make it easy to spot along the Platte River, whose swampy woods make the perfect home for these beautiful ducks. 

platter river common merganser

Common Mergansers

Common mergansers can be seen gracefully floating down the Platte River. The males have white bodies and dark green heads, while the females are grey-bodied with reddish heads and tufted crests.

platte river common loon

Common Loon

If you see a common loon, it will likely be in the water as they only go to shore to mate or incubate eggs. If you notice one going underwater, see if you can spot them when they come up! They can stay underwater for 5 minutes allowing them to travel a distance. Listen to the call of the loon here.    

Elusive Wildlife on the Platte River

platte river beaver


You might not see a beaver during the day but look for evidence in the trees. Pointed trees or slim bases are clear signs that a beaver has been there. Beaver’s teeth never stop growing, so they chew on trees to wear them down, even if the tree isn’t needed for building a lodge or dam. While beavers are expected within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, they’re not all on the Platte River.

 platte river coyote


If you see a coyote, don’t be scared. Our river coyotes are typically pretty shy, especially around humans. They also love the water and will happily cross deep rivers when necessary.

platte river sandhill crane

Sandhill Crane

Did you know cranes are among the oldest living birds on the planet? These 5-foot-tall birds you may spot along or flying above the Platte River are called Sandhill cranes. They often travel in pairs. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll see them dancing! Listen to their unique sounds here.

Green Heron

You can find many types of heron in northern Michigan. On the Platte River, they come in a rainbow of colors– from green to white to blue. The green heron is most difficult to meet at the Platte because of its camouflaging size and colors. If you’re hoping to find one, train your eyes on the water’s edge and look for their green feathers and short reddish neck.

platte river giant egret

Giant Egret

This is a giant egret. They are also known as the white heron. These 3ft tall birds are less common in the region, though you won’t miss them if they are near. Their white feathers and S-curved necks, which tuck in as they fly, create a unique silhouette so you won’t mistake them for the other herons.

platte river bald eagle

Bald Eagle

Have you ever spotted an eagle in Michigan? You just might get the chance while canoeing on the Lower Platte River. Look high above to catch them soaring or perched near the top of a tree. These massive American icons grow to 3 ft tall with a wingspan of 6.5 ft. Bald eagles are always a treasure to see. They are slowly becoming more common to spot throughout the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

platte river piper plover

Piping Plover

Keep your eyes peeled for a piping plover along the shores of Lake Michigan when you reach the mouth of the Platte. These neat little birds nest on the ground in open areas, making them more vulnerable to predators and loss of habitat. They are protected in the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore– home to the largest concentrated population of the piping plover. Look for the signage at the mouth of the Platte River indicating areas of the beach which are off-limits. They are a treat to spot, but please do keep your distance. 

Enjoy the Wildlife on the Platte River

There are many reasons people visit the lower Platte River. Enjoying the nature and wildlife that surrounds us is what makes a trip with Riverside Canoe Trips so special. While we covered an abundance of river wildlife today, there are always more creatures for your camera to capture. If you are coming for the wildlife, we recommend planning your Riverside canoe trip outside of peak times. Plan to arrive in the early morning or paddle in off-season months like spring and fall.

Are you an amateur wildlife photographer? Or do you enjoy nature photography? With an abundance of wildlife, some waterproof gear from our gift shop, and a canoe rental, a Lower Platte River trip is perfect. And Riverside Canoes is here for you! 

Photo Credits

The beautiful wildlife photography you see above is courtesy of Jim Gribble, a local wildlife photographer, and outdoor adventurer. Along with his photography, Jim offers guided tours down the Platte River for those seeking a personal experience. Check out his website for more wildlife photography and further details.