The coming of spring... The warmth of a pleasant summer day... The cool, colorful days of fall... The frosty white beauty of winter... These seasonal changes provide an ever-continuing reason to explore Minnesota's wildlife in the great outdoors.
January - February
This is a great time to get out and enjoy wildlife near nature centers and along trails in state parks. Try reading mammal tracks in the snow to discover what animals are present -- perhaps white-tailed deer, red fox, coyotes, or even bobcats, fishers and timber wolves.
Boreal owls are usually encountered in St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties in the northeastern, and particularly in the Sax-Zim tamarack bog. Look for them in the coniferous forests of Roseau County in the northwest as well. Great gray, boreal and northern hawk-owls can often be approached very closely because these boreal species typically show no fear of humans.
Open water along rivers and near power plants provide habitat for Canada geese, trumpeter swans, bald eagles and mallards. Look closely among them for common goldeneyes, American mergansers and American black ducks. Visit the Red Wing and Wabasha areas for great opportunities to see wintering bald eagles.
March - April
Longer and warmer days make it fun to seek out the first signs of spring. The first eastern bluebirds and wood ducks return in March to look for nest boxes. The best waterfowl migration occurs from mid-March through mid-April. Check out the major state and federal wildlife refuges for returning waterfowl. Great horned owls are already nesting and raising their young and Canada geese and bald eagles begin incubating eggs by early April.
Mid to late April is a great time to look for migration of shorebirds. Yellowlegs, willets, dunlins and other sandpipers can be seen on shallow wetlands and mudflats throughout the state. The last week of April brings the first wave of early migrant songbirds like the yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet and palm warbler.
May - June
The first part of May is the best time to enjoy the passage of warblers in their full breeding plumage. Spectacular colors add a dramatic highlight to spring in the forest, especially if you are lucky enough to see an indigo bunting, scarlet tanager or rose-breasted grosbeak. Check out annual birding festivals held throughout the state. There are field trips and great opportunities to learn about wildlife from experienced guides.
Trumpeter swans may be seen nesting in marshes in central and northern Minnesota. The young, called cygnets, hatch in mid-June. Check out the Gunflint Trail near the Canadian border to experience the beauty and variety of warblers during the last weekend of May if you missed them earlier in the month in southerly locations.
July - August
Head for northern lakes to hear the haunting call of the loon at sunset and watch bald eagles and ospreys. Many popular lakes have wildlife that is accustomed to people and will provide great viewing and photography opportunities. A quiet walk along a lakeshore or early morning canoe trip might reveal a family of otters, great blue heron, eastern phoebe or kingfisher along the water's edge.
At Blue Mounds State Park the sparring of bull bison as they fight for mating dominance in the park's herd will reward a July visit. Grunting, bellowing and clouds of dust accompany the sparring as the shaggy beasts collide, head to head. Prairies abound with native butterflies like the regal fritillary. Also visit the Minnesota River dam in Granite Falls, the dam near Watson or the spillway on Marsh Lake near Appleton to see American white pelicans. They put on a great show as they fish and are incredibly graceful in flight.
July begins the first migration of shorebirds through Minnesota to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Look for them on shallow wetland and mudflats. Sandhill crane families also begin coming out of their nesting marshes into adjacent hayfield and grasslands in August. A late summer visit to St. Croix State Park may yield a sighting of black bears feeding on berries along the trails.
September - October
One of the best-known attractions during this time is the migration of birds of prey along Hawk Ridge in Duluth. Sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks, peregrine falcons and other raptors can be seen from early September through mid-November, peaking in mid-September.
Major state and federal wildlife refuges in northwestern Minnesota provide staging areas for sandhill cranes; also look for moose, deer and elk. Enjoy the golden colors of fall tamarack trees as well.
Ducks, geese and swans may be seen at hundreds of state and federal wetlands throughout the state. Late October is an excellent time for a journey down Highway 61 to see waterfowl in the Weaver Bottoms in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge .
November - December
The first couple of weeks of November are best for visiting the Weaver Bottoms along the Mississippi River. See thousands of migrating tundra swans en route from arctic nesting sites to wintering rounds in North Carolina and Virginia. Stop by the city park at Red Wing, Read's Landing south of Lake City and Wabasha to check for wintering bald eagles.
Early December is a great time to drop serious hints for the perfect gift of a new set of binoculars, spotting scope or camera to help you enjoy wildlife throughout the seasons.