Projects in Minnesota regions

Northeast Projects

Camp Ripley research and survey coordination

Through annual Inter-agency Agreements, a variety of wildlife and plant work is done for the Department of Military Affairs at Camp Ripley by the Department of Natural Resources. This work is coordinated by the Regional Nongame Specialist at Brainerd and includes projects on wolves, songbirds, owls, frogs and toads, jumping spiders, dragonflies, and other endangered animals and plants. For more information on the projects at Camp Ripley, contact Brian Dirks, Animal Survey Coordinator at [email protected] or (320) 632-7635.

Landscaping for Wildlife demonstration areas

Three demonstration areas have been developed to show the 16 habitat components of "landscaping for wildlife" methods. At the 110-acre Uppgaard Wildlife Management Area between Crosslake and Pequot Lakes, examples of the different components are marked with signs, and well-maintained trails lead the visitor to wildflower gardens, feeders, wildlife-viewing blinds, and scenic overlooks. At the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd, two backyard areas have been developed to show the visitor the variety of plants that are valuable to wildlife. There are also displays of bird feeders and nesting boxes. At the DNR Regional Headquarters, also in Brainerd, three terraces have been planted with native woodland and prairie plant species. These plants are labeled to assist with identification and an information board inside the main entrance provides additional information on plants that are currently blooming. A bird feeding station is also maintained on the river side of the building which features a squirrel-proof feeder array.

Red-shouldered hawk forest management guidelines

The red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a state-listed species of special concern. In 1992, "The Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Timber Harvesting and Forest Management in Minnesota" put special emphasis on the red-shouldered hawk because of projected population declines under all timber harvesting scenarios for the next 50 years. This decline is anticipated due to the loss of large contiguous stands of mature hardwoods throughout the state. Following the completion of surveys to assess distribution, management guidelines are being developed to help guide forest management activities. The goal is to prevent population declines of this species.

Northern goshawk survey

Nest surveys were conducted in northern Minnesota in addition to the use of radio telemetry to track the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). With the aid of aircraft and radio telemetry, it was discovered that the northern goshawks do not leave Minnesota in the winter. Additional flights are planned in hopes of gathering further information regarding these beautiful raptors.

Timber planning

The goal of Nongame staff's participation in this 5-year timber planning process is to ensure the continuation of an ecologically sound and diverse forest. This cooperative plan between the DNR's divisions of Forestry and Wildlife utilizes GIS and the Natural Heritage Data bases to provide necessary information to ensure each area (landscape) is managed and harvested to its potential, while maintaining the natural diversity of the forest landscape. Special provisions are given to managing endangered and threatened species when managing the forest landscape.

Boreal owl population monitoring

This small, flat-headed, earless owl is found only in the extreme northeastern portion of Minnesota and considered at the edge of its range. The boreal owl (Aegolius funereus) population is monitored in late winter on predetermined routes during the evening hours. Researchers stop every mile to listen for the owl's unique call, which is similar to the sound of a soft high-pitched bell.

Black-throated blue warbler survey

The black-throated blue warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) is only found in northeastern Minnesota and has a very small range. In Tettegouche State Park, 50 singing males were found and documentation of a breeding population was verified. Further study of this unique bird will determine it's specific habitat preferences.

Common loon migration study

In the fall of 1998, researchers counted common loons (Gavia immer) weekly on lakes Winnibigoshish and Mille Lacs to determine pre-migratory numbers, flock sizes and locations. Counts were made from shore, boat and plane. On Lake Winnibigoshish, the highest count was recorded on October 21 with 1,599 loons. A final report on this study entitled "Fall Staging of the Common Loon on Lakes Winnibigoshish and Mille Lacs" will soon be published in the Loon, the journal of the Minnesota Ornithologists Union. On Lake Mille Lacs, the highest count total occurred on October 20 with 1,688 loons, a record high count for any lake in Minnesota at any time!

Common tern management

Since l982, the Department has overseen monitoring of these rare waterbirds. The common tern (Sterna hirundo) is classified as threatened. This species nests in Lake of the Woods County, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs Lake, and Lake Superior in the Duluth Harbor. Program emphasis includes monitoring nest productivity, nest protection measures, and habitat improvement. In l999, there were five nesting colony sites for the common tern, and a statewide population of fewer than 900 nesting pairs.

Northwest Projects

Piping plover & common tern monitoring

Since l982, the Department has overseen monitoring of these rare species. The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is endangered, and the common tern (Sterna hirundo) is classified as threatened. Both species nest in Lake of the Woods County. Program emphasis includes monitoring nest productivity, nest protection measures, and habitat improvement. In l999 there were only three pairs of plovers found in the state. Currently there are five nesting colony sites for the common tern, and a statewide population of fewer than 900 nesting pairs. In 2004 piping plovers did not nest anywhere in Minnesota, presumably due to continued erosion and problems at nesting sites. Currently, there are two common tern nesting sites in Lake of the Woods County, one on Pine/Curry Island, and the other on the NW Angle Islands.

Central Projects

DNR Eagle Cam


Lights Out Twin Cities

Save birds and energy by turning off unnecessary lights during spring and fall migration.

Peregrine Falcon Project

Restoring peregrine populations.


Cricket frog survey

Going, going, gone from the states' frog chorus, the cricket frog (Acris crepitans) is so rarely heard in Minnesota that biologists were considering declaring it extirpated (gone forever) in Minnesota. Much to everyone's surprise, a chorus of cricket frogs was heard calling in Bloomington in July of 1998. Since then, Nongame Wildlife Program personnel have been out each spring looking and listening for this rare species along the Minnesota river Valley where these frogs have persisted despite river limited habitat and flooding.

This Bloomington population is located far from the species historically known home range in southeast Minnesota. Therefore, DNR biologists had questions about the origin of the cricket frogs at this unexpected location.

In 2003, with funding from the Nongame Wildlife Program, Dr. Andrew Simons in the Dept. of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the U of MN, took on the challenge of determining the origin of the Bloomington cricket frogs. Five of these tiny and allusive frogs were captured. Without causing any mortality, a toe was clipped from each frog for a tissue sample.

The results from the Minnesota frogs were compared to DNA analysis of 40 other cricket frogs collected from across the nation. The researchers concluded that "That the Bloomington population has DNA sequences that are unique compared to other northern cricket frog populations." They recommended that these frogs be managed as a native endangered species.

In July 2004, a second population was discovered near Winona by a volunteer with the DNR's Frog and Toad Calling Survey project.

Timber rattlesnake survey & habitat improvement

The timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is a state threatened species and is only found in the blufflands of southeastern Minnesota. This docile snake, although venomous, poses little threat to humans, yet many people feel compelled to kill any snake they encounter, including timber rattlesnakes. Minnesota paid a bounty for timber rattlers until 1989. In the 1940's, nearly 6000 rattlesnakes were submitted for bounty in Houston County alone! By 1987, fewer than 200 snakes were turned in for bounty in the same county. Intensive harvest had a tremendous impact on Minnesota's rattlesnake population. So much so that the species was listed as threatened in 1996. Today, we still have rattlesnakes in Minnesota, but their range has reduced, and many once active dens are now gone.

The timber rattlesnake inhabits south and west-facing bluff prairies with associated forest. In May, snakes emerge from their dens and begin sunning on rock ledges and outcroppings. Gravid females remain around the den until they give birth to live young in September. Nongravid females and males disperse around the end of May to mid-June. These snakes search for rodents and small birds in forests and bottomlands within two miles of their dens.

Because rattlesnakes are declining throughout their range, the Nongame Wildlife Program embarked on a survey effort to assess areas where snakes were known to occur historically and where snake-human encounters were increasing. These spring surveys have revealed good and bad news. The bad news is that many once active dens are no longer active. Furthermore, much of the bluff prairie habitat the snakes depend on is getting severely overgrown with eastern red cedar. The good news is that there are still areas where the snake population appears to be stable, with signs of reproduction. In addition to spring surveys, the Nongame Wildlife Program is also conducting bluff prairie restoration to improve habitat for snakes and minimize snake-human encounters. So far, the habitat work has been very productive in restoring bluffs back to their prairie origins.

A Timber Rattlesnake Recovery Plan (1.7 mb) was finalized in April, 2009.

Wood turtle surveys

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a threatened species in Minnesota. A turtle once common to Minnesota's medium-sized to small gravel bottomed streams along the eastern half of the state, is now found in only a handful of places in southeastern and northeastern Minnesota. Wood turtles are a river species, spending their lives in and around river systems. They will stage on sand bars and sandy riverbanks in the spring for breeding, and then will disperse to summer foraging grounds. Wood turtles eat a variety of foods including berries, earthworms, snails and insects. While they are a long-lived species, they face significant threats from development pressure, recreation, and degrading water quality in our river systems.

Since 1998, the Nongame Wildlife Program has been monitoring these wood turtles along several southeastern Minnesota streams to determine population size and age, range and habitat use. This monitoring has involved extensive telemetry work to follow adult and juvenile turtles throughout the field season to determine habitat preferences and movements. The goal is to develop habitat management plans with landowners along these rivers, to help them preserve Minnesota's only terrestrial turtle.

Oak savanna restoration for the Karner blue butterfly

The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is a federally endangered species and is only found in one location in Minnesota. This small, beautiful butterfly inhabits oak savanna and requires lupine plants on which to lay its eggs. Oak savannas are one of the rarest native plant communities in Minnesota. Once covering more than five million acres in Minnesota, less than 4500 acres of savanna remain today. Many of these acres are becoming overgrown or are being invaded by invasive species such as honeysuckle, buckthorn and Japanese barberry. The Nongame Wildlife Program is working in partnership with the Division of Fish and Wildlife to restore oak savannas, particularly in areas where the Karner blue butterfly are known to occur. This work is challenging because oak savannas and lupine need some disturbance such as fire to maintain them. The butterflies are not known to be able to survive fire.

The Nongame Wildlife Program conducts annual monitoring transects to get a population index for Karner blues. While our populations are very low, we are managing to keep hanging on. Current restoration efforts involve removing invasive species and reintroducing fire in three valleys in southeastern Minnesota. There are twelve oak savanna valleys identified for recovery, but currently the work is being done to the three highest priority sites. More than 40 acres of oak savanna is well on its way toward restoration. Hopefully, the Karner blues will follow suit.

South Projects

Blanding's turtle survey and conservation

The Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is a state-listed threatened species. It depends upon riparian areas, variety of wetland types, and is frequently associated with sandy upland soils for nesting. However, its specific habitats and conservation needs differ across Minnesota. This ongoing project is conducted to locate areas where this rare species if found and to provide critical protection to the habitat to ensure their presence in Minnesota's landscape. There is an intensive effort in southwestern Minnesota to assess its presence, distribution and estimate the abundance. Describe and summarize study populations and formulate research and conservation recommendations.

This project will contribute towards development of a sound comprehensive conservation plan for Blanding's turtles statewide and provide valuable decision making tools. Habitat conservation efforts for Blanding's turtles dovetail well with other initiatives aimed at conservation and restoration of rivers corridors, wetlands and adjacent grasslands. Active citizen cooperation play a key role in this project by reporting all Blanding's turtle sightings.

Shorebird conservation

Shorebirds are among the most remarkable creatures on earth. Each year, most undertake phenomenal migrations from their wintering grounds as far south as southern South American, en route to their breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic Ocean. On these extraordinary journeys, shorebirds face increasing threats because they depend upon shorelines and wetlands, both coastal and along interior waterways. Lack of habitat is compounded by increased threats from water pollution, high rates of predation, and other factors which make their journey more perilous every year.

There are 74 shorebirds species in the Western Hemisphere. More than a third are in decline. At least five are highly imperiled and 22 are conservation priorities. Closer to home, nesting and migratory shorebirds historically have been important components of Minnesota's landscape despite serious habitat loss and degradation of wetlands and grasslands. Shorebirds are one of the Nongame Wildlife Program's priorities for southwest Minnesota.

Managing for shorebirds in the Prairie Parkland Province is challenging because of the dynamic nature of wetland conditions over time and across the landscape. Conservation of shorebird habitats benefits many other species, including waterfowl, migratory birds, amphibians and reptiles, commercial and recreationally valuable fish, and endangered and threatened species. Shorebirds can be valuable indicators of environmental health. Shorebird viewing attracts many wildlife watching tourists which are an economic boon for nearby communities. Shorebirds serve as a valuable vehicle for cooperative conservation.


Lights Out Twin Cities

Save birds and energy by turning off unnecessary lights during spring and fall migration.

Project WILD

Project WILD is an interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education program emphasizing wildlife.

Minnesota Frog & Toad Calling Survey

An ongoing state-wide study of Minnesota's frogs and toads.

Minnesota's Important Bird Areas

Important Bird Areas are voluntary and non-regulatory, and part of an international conservation effort.

Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project

2004 project results.

Get the Lead Out Project

Lead poisoning prevention

Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program

Volunteer provided data collection.

Bald Eagle Survey

2000 and 2005 survey results.

Dragonflies and Damselflies in Minnesota

Dragonflies and their close relatives called damselflies are ancient insects and prehistoric reminders of the age of the dinosaurs.  Enormous dragonflies with a wingspread up to 30 inches across were part of the Peleozoic landscape about 300 million years ago.  The largest insect ever known was a dragonfly called Meganeura monyi. It had a wingspread of 30 inches and a body 18 inches long.  It lived until about 250 million years ago and then became extinct.  

It is believed that prehistoric insects were much larger than modern day insects because of the high concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere, about 35 percent.  That percentage has decreased since the days of the dinosaurs and is now about 21 percent. 

Even with major changes in the landscape over millions of years, dragonflies have continued to adapt and are found worldwide.  There are an estimated 5,500 to 6,500 dragonfly and damselfly species in the world.  In Minnesota there are about 140 total species. 

Dragonflies belong to the class Insecta and the Order Odonata.  Odonata includes both dragonflies and damselflies.  Dragonflies tend to be larger and have large eyes which meet in the center of their heads.  The wings of dragonflies are transparent with assorted markings.  They are not narrow at the base and the forewings and the hindwings are each shaped differently.  When at rest, the wings are outspread.  Damselflies are generally smaller than dragonflies and have a more slender body.  Their eyes are widely separated, and they hold their wings together above their body when at rest. 

Dragonflies are an aeronautical marvel.  They can hover, glide, and pursue prey species like mosquitoes at speeds up to 29 inches per second.  They are an aggressive and voracious predator that eats midges, mosquitoes, butterflies, moths, and even smaller dragonflies and fish. 

The life cycle of a dragonfly has three stages: egg, larva, and adults.  After hatching in a pond, dragonfly larvae become aggressive predators that eat "anything smaller than they are".  The larval stage of a dragonfly's life can last anywhere from 2 months to 5 years.  After emerging from the larval stage, adult dragonflies live only 4 to 6 months. 

Although dragonflies are efficient predators, they also serve as prey for birds like purple martins, frogs, and larger dragonflies.  They nymphs are eaten by frogs, toads, newts and fish.

The largest species of dragonflies are the Lake Darner and Arrowhead Spike tail which average 3.1 inches long and the smallest dragonfly in the state is the Elfin Skimmer which is only .8 inches long.

Dragonflies and damselflies depend on abundant and diverse types of wetlands, rivers, and lakes.  Every species has special requirements related to water quality, aquatic vegetation, and natural shoreline vegetation where they may lay eggs, hunt, or rest.  They serve as an important part of the food chain and comprise an important part of our natural biological diversity.  There are about as many dragonflies and damselflies in Minnesota as there are butterflies, but butterflies are more well known.

In order to better understand Minnesota's dragonflies and damselflies, the DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program has initiated an annual volunteer dragonfly survey so private citizens can help collect information on the distribution of the state's dragonflies.  More information is available from

Golden Eagle Tracking

The Nongame Wildlife Program along with Audubon Minnesota, The National Eagle Center, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have begun a 3-year project to increase understanding of the biology and management needs golden eagles wintering along the Mississippi River.  Nongame Wildlife has provided funding for radio tracking devices to be placed on golden eagles over the next three years. 

Golden Eagles do not breed in Minnesota and Wisconsin and have not been considered regular users of the Mississippi River during the winter.  In Minnesota, there have been occasional reports of golden eagles in spring, fall and winter from most counties. 

Recent January surveys coordinated by the National Eagle Center revealed a population of about 60 golden eagles in the Minnesota and Wisconsin counties using the bluffs along the Mississippi River from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Red Wing, Minnesota.  These birds do not mix with the wintering and breeding bald eagles found in this area.  The breeding origin of these wintering golden eagles is unknown, and we have no information about their migration routes and their habitat use and timing during the winter. 

Golden eagle habitat use, preferred prey and home range during the winter is information that will be needed to ensure appropriate management and conservation action along the Mississippi River.  The 3-year goals of this project are to:

  • Better understand the numbers, distribution, and habits of wintering golden eagles along the Mississippi River.
  • Identify the breeding origins and migratory routes of these birds and the timing of their use.
  • Begin the process of developing appropriate conservation and management strategies for these birds.
  • Inform and engage the public in carrying out these goals.

Volunteer LoonWatcher survey

Volunteers that live on lakes or regularly visit lakes can participate in the Minnesota Volunteer LoonWatcher Survey as a volunteer "loon watcher". Loon watchers report on their lake at the end of the season providing information on nesting success, number of loons observed, interesting occurrences and problems that may negatively affect the loons. Anyone with an interest in loons can join this program and choose a lake to report on. Some volunteers have been in this program for many years. For more information about the Minnesota Volunteer Loon Survey contact Kevin Woizeschke at [email protected] or 218-203-4371.

Colonial waterbird survey

In marshes and along the lakes of Minnesota, 17 species of colonial waterbirds can be found, including most grebe species, pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, gulls and terns. Because colonial waterbirds nest in groups, disturbance in a colony has the potential to interfere with reproductive success of many individuals, sometimes thousands of nesting pairs. Their foraging habitats have been threatened by wetland drainage, development and recreation.

Nongame Wildlife Specialists census tree-nesting colonies of more than 100 pairs every year and other colonies every three years. Data is also collected from federal personnel, area wildlife managers, university researchers and other volunteers. Special emphasis is placed on Common and Forster's terns, and some grebe colonies.

The data is collected and entered into a computer database with site location, habitat, ownership and possible threats to the colony. Currently, 6725 records for 933 colony sites are in the database. This data is an important source of information for environmental reviews, ecological research, and mapping the geographic distribution of colonial waterbirds.

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