Experts and novices alike can explore different areas in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and find something they’ve never seen before.
Warmer weather signals that it’s time for birds to migrate and spring is a great time to see and hear a variety birds throughout the region.
Waterfowl are among the earliest spring migrants. Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota is famous for the thousands of snow geese that stop there in March. Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota is home to one of the nation’s largest breeding colonies of Franklin’s gulls.
Shorebirds such as sandpipers, plovers and godwits migrate through the region – and some also stay to nest. Salt Lake, a unique alkaline lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border, is a hot spot for birding in April. Another good place to see shorebirds is Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota.
Woodlands in early May can seem suddenly filled with flocks of colorful warblers returning from their winter in the tropics and southern United States. Minnesota’s Frontenac State Park on the Mississippi is exceptional. Pockets of forest between grasslands such as found at South Dakota’s Newton Hills State Park are magnets for warblers.
Prairies in the summer feature wildflowers, butterflies – and birds. Felton Prairie in northwestern Minnesota is a premier birding destination. Other prairies protected by The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota also provide crucial habitat for grassland birds.
People may think of pelicans as seabirds but white pelicans nest far from the ocean. Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota has the largest breeding colony of white pelicans in the United States.
The Prairie Pothole region, which includes western Minnesota and eastern Dakotas, has been called America’s duck factory. Millions of ducks and geese rest and nest in these wetlands and grasslands during migration. Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota is a good spot to watch ruddy ducks and blue-winged teal and to look and listen for rare grassland songbirds including Baird’s sparrow and Sprague’s pipit.
Sandhill cranes are large, spectacular birds and can be seen at many locations in Minnesota and the Dakotas. In October at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, an hour’s drive northwest of the Twin Cities, visitors can watch flocks of migrating cranes fly low overhead at dusk and listen to their loud bugling calls.
Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota is among the best places in North America to see migrating birds of prey. In late September, when northwest winds follow a passing weather front, it is possible to see thousands of broad-winged hawks here in just a few hours.
Bitterly cold winter weather is still good birding weather. The Sax-Zim Bog area in northeastern Minnesota attracts birders who come to see northern owls such as great gray or hawk owls, or flocks of nomadic winter finches and grosbeaks.
The prairie can be good birding in winter. Fort Pierre National Grassland near Pierre, South Dakota is where birders go to find snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, and (with extraordinary luck) a rare gyrfalcon from the far north.
The Nature Conservancy protects habitats essential for birds and your support is critical to our success every year. Help us protect more of our forests, prairies, rivers and lakes with a gift today for Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota!