More than 4,000 black-crowned night herons gave this swampy land its name — Heron Lake. Lindgren-Traeger Bird Sanctuary is a marsh that fringes the northern edge of this lake. It serves as a visual reminder of the vast 8,000-acre wetland that once was one of North America’s most productive marshes.
Over the years, much of this region was ditched and drained for farming, while dikes and dams held back waters. Without wetlands to filter and slow water from the watershed, silt began to cloud much of the lake’s water, taking its toll on the plants that grow there.
Lindgren-Traeger sanctuary, however, still is a place where avid birdwatchers can come to observe grassland birds with an open view of the vast lake basin.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Precious wetlands are being lost in Minnesota. More than 10 million acres of wetlands — half of the state’s original total — have been drained in the past century and converted to cropland. Restoration of these lands is critical to preserving Minnesota’s natural wildlife heritage, as well as ensuring a supply of clean drinking water.
North Heron Lake’s rich ecological past combined with its functioning marsh system make it an ideal place for restoration and demonstration efforts.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The Conservancy’s work on this land is part of a larger effort to restore the health of the Heron Lake system. Private individuals and organizations have been working to protect this lake for nearly 100 years
The Conservancy believes more can be accomplished through cooperation. By working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the North Heron Lake Game Producers Association and private landowners, the Conservancy leverages its limited resources for the greater good of the lake.
The sanctuary is being managed through proven conservation strategies, including using prescribed burns to control harmful, non-native plants and by replanting the prairie. The Conservancy seeded native prairie grasses to reduce sediment runoff into the lake and replace critical nesting habitat. In addition, the Conservancy has responded to local interest in prescribed fire management and has helped organize the Heron Lake Fire Council, which brings together agency expertise and landowner experience in a cooperative atmosphere.
The vegetation currently is undergoing restoration efforts, and the Conservancy is working with partners around the lake to ensure sound future management.
What to See: Plants
When water levels are normal, marsh and low-grass habitat covers one-half of the preserve. Cattails — the most familiar of wetland plants — can be found swaying in the marshes. Reaching up to nine feet in height, the brown flower clusters cannot be missed.
Switchgrass, big bluestem and Indian grass are some of the more prominent grasses. In the fall, the golden-white flowers of the side oats gramma bloom spike to create a flag effect. Although not as plentiful as it once was, sago pondweed, a favorite food of the once-plentiful canvassback duck, still can be found in the lake basin.
What to See: Animals
Bird-lovers passing through this region should make the trek to Lindgren-Traeger Bird Sanctuary. This marsh attracts the American white pelican, Forster’s tern, black-crowned night herons, American bittern, Franklin’s gull, American avocet, several species of ducks and colonial shore birds.
Many of these birds have such distinctive markings they cannot be missed. For example, a black crown and red eye easily identify the long-beaked herons. These nocturnal feeders sound a deep, croaking call. By day, they roost together. The American avocet is a large, long-legged shorebird with an elaborate and noisy courtship display. A white belly and black-and-white wings offset its rust-colored head.
For more information on visiting this and other Minnesota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.
From Heron Lake, drive northeast on State Highway 60 about one and one-third miles. Turn south on County Road 24. Travel first south and then east for two and one-half miles. Turn south on the second gravel road and drive one mile south until you come to an intersection. The sanctuary is on the southwest corner of the intersection and has a large wood sign. Turn right and park along the road. Do not park near the farm on the north side of the sanctuary.
Please note that the Conservancy asks visitors to observe from a distance, to not upset the lakeshore. Launching boats, therefore, is not allowed.