Birding Hotspots

Sixteen Quality Birding Locations Around the State

A brief guide to some of Minnesota's best birding areas.

(Numbers preceding place names will return you to the map when clicked on)
    1) Roseau Bog. (Roseau County) This area, and the Lost River State Forest just to the east, are good birding spots for such species as nesting Wilson's Phalarope and Sharp-tailed Sparrow. In winter look for a possible Gyrfalcon, Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl and winter finches. Resident birds include Great Gray Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee.

    2) Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. (Marshall County) A large, expansive refuge good at all times of the year, this is one of northwestern Minnesota's most interesting birding areas. Look for Yellow Rail, Sandhill Crane, Franklin's Gull, Sedge Wren and Mourning Warbler. Agassiz is also an excellent place to bird during migration, especially for shorebirds.

    3) Felton Prairie. (Clay County) Famous for its nesting Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Felton is also a good spot to look for prairie birds such as Swainson's Hawk, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Sedge Wren, Loggerhead Shrike and numerous sparrows.Several tracts owned by the Nature Conservancy are located in this general area as well.

    4) Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. (Becker County) Here is an interesting area in the northwest to look for woodland and boreal species. Great Gray Owl, Ruffed Grouse, Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler are all species that can be found here.

    5) Itasca State Park. (Clearwater and Hubbard counties) While this park is not noted for having specific Minnesota specialties, it is nonetheless a park with a great variety of northern species, and therefore good birding in general. Look for Common Loon, Northern Goshawk, Alder Flycatcher, Winter Wren, warblers and, in winter, finches.

    6) Sax-Zim Bog. (St. Louis County) Some say this is the place to bird in Minnesota. Indeed, species difficult to find elsewhere are often much easier in "the bog." Upland Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Connecticut Warbler and LeConte's Sparrow all nest here. In winter look also for Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Shrike, Snow Bunting, crossbills and redpolls.

    7) Gunflint Trail. (Cook County) Nowhere else is Black-backed Woodpecker or Boreal Owl found more often. The trail is actually a road -- County Road 12 -- which wanders north from Lake Superior for about 50 miles. Other species to watch out for include Spruce Grouse, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Boreal Chickadee.

    8) Aitkin County Road 18. (Aitkin County) One of the better roads for finding such specialties as Sharp-tailed Grouse, Great Gray Owl, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Boreal Chickadee. Also a good drive in winter for Snow Buntings and winter finches.

    9) McGregor Marsh. (Aitkin County) This is the best known spot in Minnesota for nesting Yellow Rails and Sharp-tailed Sparrows. Arrive well after dark and listen for each of their distinctive calls -- the rail's clicking sounds and the sparrow's dry wheezing. Look and listen especially on the east side of Minnesota highway 65.

    10) Rothsay Wildlife Management Area. (Wilkin County) Greater Prairie-Chickens nest here, and nowhere in the state are they easier to find. Also look for Marbled Godwit, Prairie Falcon and, in migration, flocks of Sandhill Crane and Smith's and Lapland Longspurs. Also an excellent place to find migrating Short-eared Owl.

    11) Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. (Sherburne County) Sherburne has a varied habitat, and therefore a variety of possible species. In summer, look for Sandhill Crane, Eastern Screech Owl, Whip-poor-will and Golden-winged Warbler. In winter Barred Owls, Snow Buntings, crossbills and redpolls are likely.

    12) Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. (Anoka and Chisago counties) Over 2000 acres of marshland, lakes and swamp, Carlos Avery is best visited in migration when the shorebirds come through, usually in large numbers. Species usually found in summer include Sandhill Crane, Sedge Wren, and Golden-winged Warbler.

    13) Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge. (Big Stone and Lac Qui Parle counties) Big Stone has lakes, pools, meadows, fields, woods and marshes. Take the auto tour road (best by bicycle) and you can find water birds, prairie birds and woodland birds. This is a park that is best visited in migration or early summer. Western vagrants are always a good possibility, and there are many good nesting species here as well. Watch also for Cattle Egret, Swainson's Hawk, Marbled Godwit, Sedge Wrens and many Sparrows.

    14) Salt Lake. (Lac Qui Parle County) Every spring as many as 100 birders from around the state make the trip to Salt Lake for a long birding weekend. A good place in high water times for migrating grebes and ducks, in low water years it can be exceptional for shorebirds.

    15) Blue Mounds State Park. (Rock County) A habitat most unlike the rest of Minnesota, the park has cactus, a herd of buffalo and a feel to it more like states found farther west. So it is not surprising that Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Western Kingbird, Say's Phoebe and Mountain Bluebird have all been seen here. And nowhere in the state is Blue Grosbeak easier to find than here.

    16) Whitewater Wildlife Management Area. (Winona County) Simply a beautiful area with steep ravine walls, groves of eastern red cedar, and a winding gravel road, Whitewater is promising any time of year. In winter one can usually find a soaring Golden Eagle overhead or a Red-shouldered Hawk in the nearby trees.

    For a more complete description of these and nearly a thousand other birding spots in Minnesota, check Kim Eckert's A Birder's Guide to Minnesota.

    The well known Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve is not included here, as it has its own series of pages elsewhere on this site.

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