Bird Hills Nature Area

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Overview

Bird Hills Nature Area is the largest natural area in the city at 146 acres. Its hilly woods are a sanctuary for hikers. A network of trails allows the opportunity to spend hours hiking through beautiful forested areas or just a few minutes to appreciate nature. The area is closed to bicycles to prevent damage from erosion. No facilities are available in this undeveloped natural area. There are plenty of interesting and rare plant species to observe. The unpaved trails wind through hills and ravines covered with beech, sugar maple, flowering dogwood, oaks and hickory and various spring wildflowers. Other areas have been planted with various trees not native to our area. View a printable brochure​ describing the natural features of the park.​​ View the Natural Area Preservation Photo Monitoring Map to see the landscape of Bird Hills and other natural areas over time.

Park Notices

Unless otherwise posted per City Council resolution, when a park is closed, no person shall remain in or enter it other than to quietly sit or walk.​

Refer to Chapter 39 of the City of Ann Arbor Code of Ordinances for park regulations and rules.

Park Hours

6 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Amenities

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Benches

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Bike Racks *

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Unpaved Trails

 

Landfill Receptacles


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Access and Parking

​There are five trailheads: Down Up Circle, Bird Road, Beechwood Drive and two near the Newport Road parking area.​ There is a small parking lot at the main entrance to Bird Hills on Newport Road. There is a small parking area on ​Beechwood Drive​. There is also a very limited amount of parking in a small pull-off lot on Bird Road​ on the north side of the park, and some street parking there as well. Parking is also available in the Barton N​ature Area lot, on W. Huron River Drive, near the Barton Dam.​​ View the Bird Hills Parking Guide​​ for more detail. 

Bicyclists can get to Bird Hills by riding on Newport Road, Huron River Drive, or Hampstead Lane. None of these roads have dedicated bike lanes. There are bike racks at two of the entrances, view the parking guide for specific details. Bicycles are not permitted within the park.

There are trail connections to Barton Nature Area​ and Kuebler Langford Nature Area.​ The Beechwood Drive entrance is just 150 feet north of an entrance to Sunset Brooks Nature Area.

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Public Transportation

The nearest bus stop is near the intersection of Newport Rd. and Down Up Circle​, which is about 100 feet from the nearest trailhead on Newport Rd. ​Visit TheRide​ for closest stops and route details or check out the parks ride guide​​. ​

History​​​

Ann Arbor's city parks sit on the ancestral and traditional homelands​ of several indigenous Native peoples. Read a land acknowledgement from the city and learn more a​bout the early history of the land here.​​

Bird Hills has an interesting and varied land use history that adds to its significance as a park. Old photos indicate that the property was logged in the late 1800s.  The central ridge and slopes were barely spotted with trees and were heavily grazed by cattle.  Some remnants of the park’s agricultural past are still visible today.  Old concrete tracks mark the site of a farm road designed to fit the wheels of a wagon, while letting the horse or ox pulling the wagon walk on softer ground between the tracks. The northwest portion of the park was used as a terraced fruit orchard.

In the early 1900s, Henry Graves and his nephew Winfred Bowen bought the property to develop as a high quality subdivision.  At this time much of the main ridge in the park was still cattle pasture and was nearly treeless. View this 1927 photo of Bird Hills. The absence of plant cover increased the amount of runoff from the high ridge after a rain event.  This caused severe erosion in the steep ravines running down to the river.

To make the land more appealing for potential home owners, Henry Graves planted a variety of trees on the open site.  This contributes to the diversity of woody plants in Bird Hills today, and explains why many non-native trees such as Scots pine, Douglas fir and white fir can be found there.  However, these development plans never came to be as Graves eventually changed his mind about development (read more here).

In 1968, the majority of the parkland was purchased by the city​ for $319,634​.​ In the 1970s, when plans to create a condominium complex next to the park surfaced, neighbors and other citizens rallied and raised enough money to help buy the land.  Again in 1990, more land adjacent to the now-larger park was threatened by development, and again the citizens and city teamed up to buy the land to add to the park.

It is likely that the overstory, and certainly the understory, that existed at Bird Hills 200 years ago was different than it appears today.  In addition to the introduction of non-native species, the composition of flora has also been influenced by prevention of naturally occurring fire.  As fires regularly moved through Washtenaw County prior to European settlement, the forest understory was thinned, and the overstory was more open, allowing native species such as oak and hickory to flourish.  Without naturally occurring​ fires, some of the forested areas of Bird Hills have become better suited for shade tolerant non-native and invasive species such as Norway maple, white ash, and buckthorn.  If the forest is allowed to develop in the absence of fire, non-native species will dominate and out-compete the native plants for light, space and nutrients.  This is why Natural Area Preservation (NAP) conducts controlled fires ​in Bird Hills during the spring and fall.

The rich diversity of native plant species found in Bird Hills ranks the park second highest overall in the city’s Floristic Quality Assessment of its natural areas. This high value gives an indication of how “natural” the site is (approximating the vegetative conditions present prior to European settlement in the early 1800s).  A higher value reflects a higher coefficient of conservatism for the species growing in that area. These conservative species have become so highly adapted to a specific set of biotic and abiotic conditions (including soil condition, temperature, moisture, humidity, presence of fire, etc.) that they cannot exist if these conditions are modified evenly slightly.  So, when you encounter these species in the wild, as you do in some of the biological communities at Bird Hills, you can be fairly confident that you have come across an area that is about as 'natural' and undisturbed as we can find in our modern world.

To read more about Bird Hills Nature Area history, volunteer efforts, ecological restoration and other Natural Area Preservation activities, check out the NAP Newsletter features that have highlighted Bird Hills:  ​

1998 Restoration Focus: Bird Hills Nature Area by ​Kathy Sorensen

2005 Park Focus: Bird Hills Nature Area by Shelley Gladwin

2013 Park Focus: Bird Hills Nature Area by Yousef Rabhi​​​

Park Stewards

Park Stewards are experienced volunteers who have adopted a nature area to protect and restore while fostering an environmental eth​ic among others. Stewards are committed to ongoing and long-term care of their park. They work with NAP to develop an annual workplan that outlines restoration goals and techniques for their natural area. 

Brooks Curtis.jpg Brooks Curtis

Brooks has been a park steward since 2013.  He started at Sunset Brooks Nature Area and added Bird Hills when he desired even more work to do. He enjoys working in the parks and making a difference in the culture of Ann Arbor. Recently, Brooks has taken an active role in creating a community among park stewards.







Margot Mehringer.jpg

Margot Mehringer

Margot has been a Park Steward for Bird Hills Nature Area since 2014. She is a retired wildlife cons​ervation educator and is also a neighbor of Bird Hills Park. Margot volunteers as eyes and ears of the park, assisting park visitors, as well as supporting the park's role as a wildlife habitat.


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