Ultimate Birding in Minnesota: 10,000 Lakes and Birds?

You know Minnesota as the land of 10,000 lakes, but birding in Minnesota is just as popular as the lakes.

Bird watching in Minnesota is something you can do in virtually every part of the state. Birders more often do their thing in the open countryside or in the forests, but you may have to wander into the cities to find some species.

Take a good pair of binoculars no matter which type of landscape or cityscape you venture into.

Minnesota state bird: Common Loon
Minnesota state bird: Common Loon

Photo Credit

This article is your ultimate guide to birding in Minnesota. It includes dozens of links to the most common, as well as a few uncommon, birding sites throughout the state.

Audubon Trail Maps

Here are three links to ESRI maps created for the Audubon website. Each of them shows many bird watching sites, most of which are listed further along in this article.

Sites in Southeastern Minnesota

From Birding Minnesota we get this list of sites in southeastern Minnesota. Just the location is provided, but that should be enough for now. Once you visit each of them, finding the birds shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Lake Byllesby Regional Park – West of Cannon Falls
  • Nerstrand Big Woods State Park – East of Faribault
  • Rice Lake State Park – East of Owatonna
  • Hormel Nature Center – Austin
  • Big Island State Park – Albert Lea
  • Colville Park – Red Wing
  • Frontenac State Park – Frontenac
  • Hok-Si-La – Lake City
  • Reads Landing – Wabasha
  • McCarthy Lake State Wildlife Management Area – South of Kellogg
  • Minneiska – Along the Mississippi River
  • Whitewater State Park – South of Elba
  • Prairie Island – Winona
  • Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park – Southeast of Spring Valley
  • Beaver Creek Valley State Park – West of Caledonia
  • Great River Bluffs State Park – Winona
  • La Crescent – On the Mississippi River

Nine Hotspots in Minnesota

From the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union (M.O.U.), we get these nine birding hotspots to investigate. Again, only the location is listed. But since they’re known hotspots, you can rest assured that they’ll be worth the trip.

The M.O.U. site actually shows more, but I picked out just these couple of handsful for now.

You’ll find more details about some of them in the Pine to Prairie list below.

Agassiz (or Lake Agassiz) pops up several times in these lists. For more information about the origins of this lake, you can check the Wikipedia article about it.

  • Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge – Northeast of Thief River Falls
  • Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge – Northeast of Detroit Lakes
  • Itasca State Park – North of Park Rapids
  • Gunflint Trail – North of Grand Marais
  • Rothsay State Wildlife Management Area – Rothsay
  • Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge – East of St. Cloud
  • Carlos Avery State Wildlife Management Area – West of Wyoming
  • Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge – Odessa
  • Blue Mounds State Park – North of Luverne

Pine to Prairie Birding Trail

The Pine to Prairie Birding Trail is possibly the most well-known set of birding sites within Minnesota.

I’ve taken the dozens of sites that it includes and given you the highlights of each below. Whenever possible for each site, I tell you where it’s located, it’s size, and the types of birds you can expect to find there. Where appropriate, I also provide a link to a related website. Some of the websites are provided by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Others are specifically created for the location.

This list comes chiefly from the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail site.

Site: Warroad Marina
Location: Warroad
Size: n/a
Birds: Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, American White Pelican, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bonaparte’s, Franklin’s and Herring gulls, Caspian and Common Tern, shorebirds and migrant passerines, Red-throated Loon, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Scoters, Little and Sabine’s Gulls, Piping Plover

Red Necked Grebe
Red Necked Grebe

Photo Credit

Site: Lost River State Forest
Location: Northwest of Warroad, bordering Canada
Size: 55,000 acres
Birds: Spruce Grouse; Snowy, Northern Hawk, Great Gray and Northern Saw-whet Owls; Whip-poor-will; Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers; Yellow-bellied Flycatcher; Common Raven; Boreal Chickadee; Magnolia, Cape May, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Connecticut and Mourning Warblers; White-winged Crossbill and other winter finches, Sprague’s Pipit
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_forests/sft00057/index.html

Site: Roseau Wastewater Treatment Ponds
Location: Roseau
Size: n/a
Birds: Waterfowl, gulls, shorebirds, Harlequin Duck, California Gull

Site: Roseau River Wildlife Management Area
Location: Northwest of Roseau
Size: n/a
Birds: Five species of grebes, Least Bittern, waterfowl, Yellow Rail, Sandhill Crane, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Forster’s Tern, Marsh Wren, LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows

Site: Beltrami Island State Forest
Location: South of Warroad
Size: Over 703,000 acres
Birds: Northern Goshawk; Ruffed Grouse; Spruce Grouse; Northern Hawk, Great Gray and Boreal Owls; Black-billed Cuckoo; Whip-poor-will; Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers; Alder Flycatcher; Boreal Chickadee; Golden-winged, Cape May, Blackburnian, Pine, Bay-breasted, Connecticut and Mourning Warblers; Pine and Evening Grosbeaks; Red and White-winged Crossbills

Site: Red Lake Wildlife Management Area
Location: Within the Beltrami Island State Forest
Size: 321,000 acres
Birds: Same as Beltrami Island State Forest (above)

Site: Hayes Lake State Park
Location: South of Roseau, adjacent to Beltrami Island State Forest
Size: 2950 acres
Birds: Common Loon, Osprey, Whip-poor-will, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Black-billed Magpie and Cedar Waxwing, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Owl, Western Wood-Pewee

Site: The Wallace C. Dayton Conservation and Wildlife Area
Location: North of Karlstad
Size: 15,000 acres
Birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse; Yellow Rail; Sandhill Crane; Marbled Godwits; Wilson’s Phalarope

Site: Lake Bronson State Park
Location: Lake Bronson
Size: 3600 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Upland Sandpiper, Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls, woodpeckers, warblers, sparrows, and finches

Site: Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area
Location: Karlstad
Size: 8000 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, rails, Sandhill Crane, warblers, Eastern Towhee, American Bittern, sparrows, Bald Eagle, and Common Loon

Site: Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area
Location: East of Middle River
Size: 55,000 acres
Birds: Five species of grebes, American Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Canvasback and Ruddy Duck, Franklin’s Gull, Sandhill Crane, warblers and grassland sparrows

Yellow Headed Blackbird
Yellow Headed Blackbird

Photo Credit

Site: Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge
Location: East of Holt
Size: 61,500 acres
Birds: Five species of grebes; Black-crowned Night-Heron; waterfowl; rails; American Bittern; Black-billed Magpie; Yellow-headed Blackbird; Sandhill Crane; shorebirds; Short-eared Owl; Sedge Wren; LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows; Snowy and Cattle Egrets; White-winged Scoter; Golden Eagle and Willow Flycatcher
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Agassiz/

Site: Old Mill State Park
Location: Argyle
Size: 408 acres
Birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Snowy, Long-eared, Short-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Pileated Woodpecker, vireos, wrens, warblers and finches, Clark’s Nutcracker and Mountain Bluebird
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/old_mill/index.html

Site: Agassiz Valley Project
Location: East of Warren
Size: 4 sq. mi.
Birds: Short-eared, Long-eared and Snowy Owls; Black-billed Cuckoo; Western Kingbird; Bobolink, Yellow-headed Blackbird, meadowlark; Prairie Chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Gray Partridge; Orchard Oriole; Black-billed Magpie; Western Grebe; White Pelican; swans and waterfowl; Golden and Bald Eagles; godwits and Upland Sandpiper

Site: Thief River Falls Wastewater Treatment Ponds
Location: Thief River Falls
Size: 260 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, gulls and shorebirds, Little and California Gulls

Site: Gully Rice Paddies / Gully Fen Scientific and Natural Area
Location: Gully
Size: 1610 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, Snow Goose and Tundra Swan; Rough-legged Hawk; Peregrine Falcon; Marbled Godwit, shorebirds; Snowy and Short-eared Owls, Ross’s Geese mixed with Snow Geese

Site: Pembina Trail Preserve Scientific and Natural Area
Location: Southeast of Crookston
Size: 1671 acres
Birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse; Greater Prairie-Chicken; Yellow Rail; Sandhill Crane; Upland Sandpiper; Wilson’s Phalarope; Short-eared Owl; Marsh Wren; LeConte’s Sparrow; Bobolink
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snas/detail.html?id=sna00988

Site: Pankratz Memorial Prairie Scientific and Natural Area
Location: Glyndon
Size: n/a
Birds: Greater Prairie-Chicken; Yellow Rail; Upland Sandpiper; Marbled Godwit; Wilson’s Phalarope; Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow

Site: Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area
Location: Southeast of Crookston
Size: 840 acres
Birds: Greater Prairie-Chicken; Upland Sandpiper; Marbled Godwit; Short-eared Owl; LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows

Site: Burnham Creek Wildlife Management Area
Location: Crookston
Size: 1460 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, Rough-legged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Sandhill Crane, prairie sparrows, longspurs, passerines

Site: Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Mentor
Size: 37.750 acres
Birds: Sandhill Cranes, Greater Prairie-Chickens, Bobolink, Marbled Godwits, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, shorebirds and waterfowl

Site: Rydell National Wildlife Refuge
Location: West of Erskine
Size: 2200 acres
Birds: Trumpeter Swan, passerines, including Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, grassland sparrows, Bobolink and finches
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/rydell/

Trumpeter Swan, Colony Farm Regional Park, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
Trumpeter Swan, Colony Farm Regional Park, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia

Photo Credit

Site: Agassiz Dunes Scientific and Natural Area / Agassiz Environmental Learning Center
Location: Southwest of Fertile
Size: 640 acres
Birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sandhill Crane, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Marsh Wren, Clay-colored, LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snas/detail.html?id=sna00972

Site: Waubun Wildlife Management Area
Location: Ogema
Size: n/a
Birds: Northern Harrier, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Yellow Rail, Sandhill Crane, prairie sparrows, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed sparrow

Site: Helliksen Prairie Waterfowl Production Area
Location: Detroit Lakes
Size: 1372 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, Peregrine Falcon, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sandhill Crane, Upland Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Sedge and Marsh Wren, prairie sparrows

Site: Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Audubon
Size: 3200 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, including Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Common Goldeneye and Ruddy Duck, Shorebirds, Snowy Owl, Sedge and Marsh Wrens, grassland sparrows, Bobolink and Yellow-headed Blackbird, Cattle Egret and Piping Plover

Site: Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge
Location: North of Rochert
Size: 43,000 acres
Birds: Common Loon; Trumpeter Swan; Wood Duck; Bald Eagle; Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks; Peregrine Falcon; Ruffed Grouse; American Woodcock; Winter, Sedge and Marsh Wrens; warblers, White-winged Scoter; Great Gray Owl; Black-backed Woodpecker; Boreal Chickadee; Townsend’s Solitaire; Northern Mockingbird; Cerulean Warbler and Spotted Towhee

Site: Detroit Lakes Wetlands Management District – Marsh Trail And Boardwalk
Location: Detroit Lakes
Size: n/a
Birds: Waterfowl including Trumpeter Swan and Canada Geese; Northern Harrier; Common Nighthawk; woodpeckers; flycatchers; Sedge Wren; Eastern Bluebird; prairie sparrows; Rose-breasted Grosbeak; Baltimore Oriole; finches and osprey

Site: Dunton Locks County Park
Location: South of Detroit Lakes
Size: 53 acres
Birds: Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, waterfowl, woodpeckers, vireos, warblers and finches

Site: Felton Prairie Scientific and Natural Area
Location: East of Moorhead
Size: 2117 acres
Birds: Greater Prairie-Chicken, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Snowy Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Willow Flycatcher, Grasshopper and LeConte’s Sparrows, Chestnut-collared and Lapland Longspurs, Orchard Oriole, Prairie Falcon, Say’s Phoebe, Sprague’s Pipit, Baird’s Sparrow
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snas/detail.html?id=sna00955

Site: Buffalo River State Park / Regional Science Center
Location: East of Glyndon
Size: 1068 acres
Birds: Upland Sandpiper; Bobolink; grassland sparrows; woodpeckers; finches and migrant passerines
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/buffalo_river/index.html

Site: Bluestem Prairie Scientific And Natural Area
Location: East of Glyndon, adjacent to Buffalo River State Park (above)
Size: 4600 acres
Birds: Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sandhill Crane, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Loggerhead Shrike, Henslow’s Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/buffalo_river/index.html

Blue Headed Vireo
Blue Headed Vireo

Photo Credit

Site: Pelican Rapids City Park
Location: Pelican Rapids
Size: n/a
Birds: Trumpeter Swan; Bald Eagle; Waterfowl; Blue-headed Vireo; Veery; Blackburnian Warbler; Bay-breasted Warbler and Fox Sparrow

Site: Maplewood State Park
Location: Pelican Rapids
Size: 9250 acres
Birds: Great Egret; Green Heron; Trumpeter Swan; Turkey Vulture; Wood Duck; Osprey; Red-shouldered Hawk; woodpeckers; vireos; Golden-winged and Indigo Bunting Warblers
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/maplewood/index.html

Site: Anna Gronseth Prairie / Town Hall Prairie
Location: West of Rothsay
Size: 1300 acres
Birds: Northern Harrier; American Kestrel; Sandhill Crane; Yellow Rail; Greater Prairie Chicken; Sedge Wren; Marbled Godwit; Alder and Willow Flycatchers; prairie sparrows

Site: Rothsay Wildlife Management Area
Location: Northwest of Rothsay
Size: n/a
Birds: Gray Partridge, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sandhill Crane, Marbled Godwit, Snowy and Short-eared Owls, Willow Flycatcher, Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Henslow’s Sparrow

Site: Kettledrummer Prairie / Foxhome Prairie
Location: West of Foxhome
Size: 440 acres
Birds: Red-tailed Hawk; Greater Prairie-Chicken; Upland Sandpiper; Marbled Godwit; Eastern Kingbird; Sedge Wren; Savannah, Henslow’s, LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed sparrows; Bobolink; Western Meadowlark

Site: Breckenridge Wastewater Treatment Ponds
Location: Breckenridge
Size: n/a
Birds: Waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns, migrant sparrows

Site: Prairie Wetlands Learning Center
Location: Fergus Falls
Size: 325 acres
Birds: Chipping, Clay-Colored, Vesper, Savannah, LeConte’s, Song, White-Throated, Harris’ and White-Crowned Sparrows, Lapland and Chestnut-Collared Longspurs, Dickcissel, Bobolink, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/fergus_falls_wmd/

Site: Lake Alice
Location: Fergus Falls
Size: n/a
Birds: Double-crested Cormorants; Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons

Site: Riverview Waterfowl Production Area
Location: Fergus Falls
Size: n/a
Birds: Double-crested Cormorants; Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons

Site: Agassiz Waterfowl Production Area
Location: Fergus Falls
Size: 680 acres
Birds: American Bittern, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Sedge Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Clay-colored, Savannah and Swamp Sparrows, Bobolink and American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

Photo Credit

Site: Orwell Wildlife Management Area
Location: Fergus Falls
Size: n/a
Birds: Common Loon, waterfowl, Bohemian Waxwing, Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Townsend’s Solitaire

Site: Glendalough State Park
Location: Battle Lake
Size: 2000 acres
Birds: Waterfowl, hawks, woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, sparrows, finches
Website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/glendalough/index.html

Site: Egret Island Scientific and Natural Area (Pelican Lake)
Location: Island within Pelican Lake
Size: 33 acres
Birds: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets

Additional Birding Sites in Minnesota

Finally, here are the details about a few more sites you will want to check out. These come from the Fatbirder site.

Site: Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve
Location: Duluth
Size: n/a
Birds: Turkey vulture, Osprey, Bald eagle, Northern harrier, Sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, Northern goshawk, Red-shouldered hawk, Broad-winged hawk, Swainson’s hawk, Red-tailed hawk, Rough-legged hawk, Golden eagle, Great horned owl, Northern hawk owl, Barred owl, Long-eared owl, Short-eared owl, Boreal owl, Northern saw-whet owl, American kestrel, Merlin, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine falcon
Website: http://www.hawkridge.org/

Site: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Bloomington
Size: 11,000 acres
Birds: Wood duck, Bald eagle, warblers
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/minnesota_valley/

Site: Audubon Center of the North Woods
Location: Sandstone
Size: 535 acres
Birds: See PDF checklist of ~170 birds: http://www.audubon-center.org/pdf_links/BirdingListBrochure.pdf
Website: http://audubon-center.org/

Site: River Bend Nature Centre
Location: Faribault
Size: n/a
Birds: See list http://www.rbnc.org/rbncbirds.htm
Website: http://www.rbnc.org/

Site: Springbrook Nature Center
Location: Fridley
Size: n/a
Birds: Over 100 species
Website: http://www.springbrooknaturecenter.org/

Site: Voyageurs National Park
Location: International Falls (and other locations)
Size: 218,000 acres
Birds: Bald eagle, loon, double-crested cormorant, owls, warblers
Website: http://www.recreation.gov/tourParkDetail.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72777

Site: Agassiz Audubon Center (formerly Wetlands, Pines and Prairie Audubon Sanctuary)
Location: Warren
Size: n/a
Birds: Chimney Swifts, Eastern Bluebirds, Purple Martins and American Kestrels
Website: http://agassizaudubon.blogspot.com/

If you have a favorite spot for birding in Minnesota not specifically mentioned here, let me know. We can always add more interesting sites to the list.

Ultimate Bird Watching in the Midwest

You can find more birding sites in the Midwest in these articles. (I realize Minnesota is redundantly mentioned here.)

Gary Sonnenberg

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