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Where to go Birding in Minnesota Right Now

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Sandhill cranes at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman / Mark Nicholson

Monthly Birding Update - October 2021

While many species of birds have already departed, this is prime time to see other migrant species such as swans, sandhill cranes and large raptors. In fact, some consider October the best month to see rare and unusual species — happy birding!


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Birding Tips  |  Did You Know?  |  Upcoming Events  |  Birds to See

Chestnut-sided warbler

Chestnut-sided warbler / Jon Swanson

October Nature Notes

Bird migration may seem to be as simple as the arrival and departure of birds to breeding grounds and wintering sites, but there’s much more to the phenomenon. Check out The Complicated Process of Migration to learn more.

Vast numbers of sandhill cranes are moving southward and can often be seen at Minnesota wildlife refuges during the month of October. Sandhill cranes are large birds nearly 4 feet high with a wingspan up to 7 feet wide. The cranes gather and feed in harvested fields during the day and rest in shallow water at night — dawn and dusk offer the greatest shows. The graceful flight and raucous calls of thousands of sandhill cranes is a rare and memorable experience. One refuge known for drawing large numbers of sandhill cranes is Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman. When visiting, be sure to bring along a self-guided tour map to help you navigate the park.

Impressive numbers of hawks, falcons and other raptors continue their migration over Hawk Ridge which is located on the Lake Superior flyway. This flyway allows bird to avoid the vast open waters of Lake Superior. The larger raptors generally migrate during the month October. Just some of the raptors you can expect to see include bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, red-shouldered hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, northern goshawks and turkey vultures. Raptors can be difficult to tell apart, especially when seen from a distance. Learn identification tips at the Audubon’s Three Basic Ways to Identify Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and Other Raptors. Before heading out, check the Hawk Count to learn daily statistics for nearly 20 species of birds viewed from Hawk Ridge.

The Mississippi River is one of the four main bird migration routes in the United States, with hundreds of bird species passing through. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge is part of this flyway and considered to be a Globally Important Bird Area. During the month of October, birders can see large flocks of migratory birds, as well as beautiful fall color lining steep wooded bluffs rising hundreds of feet above the river valley. If you plan to search for birds in Minnesota's bluff country region, be sure to read Explore Bluff Country & The Mississippi River Valley. Fall colors are rapidly transforming the bluffs — consider adding a fall color drive to your next fall bird watching trip. 

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Dark-eyed junco / Arthur Overcott

Dark-eyed junco / Arthur Overcott

Did You Know?

Migrating birds need energy-rich food, as well as meals that don't require a lot of energy to locate. Some of the best foods for migratory and resident birds include black oil sunflower seeds, white millet or millet mix, nyjer and suet. Peanuts are also a great source of energy — shelled nuts allow birds to expend less energy to consume. If possible, leave a large area of brush clippings roughly 10 feet away to provide birds a safe retreat. A clean source of water is also beneficial. Once your feeding station is set up, watch for hungry sparrows, blackbirds, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches. Also keep an eye out for returning dark-eyed juncos, the "harbingers" of winter. As birds establish their feeding patterns, you should be rewarded with a flurry of activity throughout the winter months.

According to an article in BirdWire, the loss of three billion birds over the last 50 years has rallied birders to help save our birds. Learn how we can make a difference at 7 Simple Actions To Help Birds. Also, learn why leaf litter left in your yard is helpful to birds at Leaf It Alone

This weekend, Oct. 8-10, you can participate in a world birding event! The Global Bird Weekend is a citizen science project with the goal of raising awareness of the plight birds and promoting birder engagement.

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Red-tailed hawk /

Red-tailed hawk / 

Upcoming Birding Events

  • On Oct. 7-8, enjoy Itasca County Birding Days in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area. Search some large lakes for waterfowl and visit lots of parks to search for sparrows and late migrants.

  • Attend a Sparrow Search offered by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union at Tiger Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Redwood Falls on Oct. 9. This WMA is known for attracting marsh birds that are often difficult to see.

  • Chester Woods Park in Eyota will be the site of a Bird Walk for Late Migrants on Oct. 9. Join other birders in a search for sparrows, late warblers, kinglets and many other songbirds. 

  • A Bird Watching Trek will be offered by the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge at the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge in Bloomington on Oct. 11. Birders of all skill levels are welcome. Reservations are not required.

  • On Oct. 16, join other birders at Pig's Eye Lake in St. Paul for a Pelican Migration program. Flocks of American White Pelicans gather at the north end of Pig’s Eye Lake as they rest and feed on minnows prior to their migration to the Gulf of Mexico.

  • A Bird Watching Trek will be offered by the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge at the Bass Ponds unit in Bloomington on Oct. 16. Birders of all skill levels are welcome. Reservations are not required.

  • On Oct. 17, attend Falcons Live! at Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay. Jackie Fallon, with the Midwest Peregrine Society, will present this program with several live birds to help us understand the past, present and future of peregrine falcons in Tettegouche State Park, the North Shore, and Upper Midwest.

  • The Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center in Hastings will offer a Public Bird Banding program on Oct. 22. Join an expert birder on a morning hike around the Nature Center. Learn to identify birds by sight and sound. Field guides and binoculars are available to use or bring your own.

  • Attend the Chisago County Sea Duck Search offered by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union on Nov. 6. Join Erik Collins on a search for some of Minnesota’s rarest duck species. Referred as “sea ducks,” these species commonly inhabit coastal areas but sometimes are found inland. Target species include black scoter, surf scoter, white-winged scoter, long-tailed duck and harlequin duck. Exact location to be determined. Contact Garrett Wee at [email protected] or text/call 507-829-8187 to register.

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More Minnesota Birding Resources

Check the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union web site for the most recent bird sightings and rare bird alerts.

For additional information, consider joining the Minnesota Birding community on Facebook.

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