Minnesota’s 10 Best Bird-Watching Spots This Summer

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Published: September 19, 2022
Share on:


The abundance of warm, bright days during this particular time of year is heightened by the sights, sounds, and movements of birds and their fledglings in the North Star State. Both avid bird watchers and non-birders alike enjoy seeing common loon mothers carrying their young on their backs.

Pay attention to and keep an ear out for herons, grebes, swans, ducks, mergansers, egrets, and waterfowl, as well as their sometimes sizable broods. One of the top urban regions in the nation for dedicated birdwatchers is the Twin Cities. 

Ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, prairies, woodlands, gardens, and fields, all typical bird habitats, are all closer than you might think! The best bird viewing spots in the country of 10,000 lakes are listed below.

Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve

The most well-known birding location in Minnesota is probably Hawk Ridge, and with good reason. Over Hawk Ridge, several of Minnesota’s most popular bird species soar. Hawk Ridge has been designated as an Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society One of the reasons Minnesotans shout “Uffda!” frequently is because of sights like when there were over 100,000 raptors spotted in the area. 

Birds are unwilling to fly across the natural barrier created by Lake Superior’s size, which leads southbound migrants to congest Hawk Ridge. Hawk flocks, also known as kettles, fly in warm air currents that develop along ridges along the lake’s edge. Impressive bird populations are produced by cold fronts with gusts from the northwest or west, with the optimum migration occurring normally around the middle of September. 

Various species of eagles, red-tailed hawks, and northern goshawks can all be seen in considerable numbers in October. The majority of hawks usually fly through in the early morning hours, and by mid-afternoon, activity has slowed down. On days with little wind or when it is raining and cloudy, there aren’t many raptors flying.

Northern goshawk perched in the forest

The Northern Goshawk, which you can spot at the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, is the largest of the true hawks.

©iStock.com/Henk Bogaard

Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge

This 61,500-acre refuge, which was created in 1937 in Marshall County, is a fantastic location to see birds throughout the migration, particularly while the water levels are low. Sandhill cranes, sparrows, short-eared owls, magpies, and yellow-headed blackbirds all call pools, marshes, meadows, and woodlands home here. 

Franklin’s gulls have a sizable breeding colony near Agassiz. A whopping 7,500 pairs of ducks and 250 pairings of Canada geese lay their eggs annually here. The ideal time to see ducks is from mid-May until mid-June. From May through the middle of July, Franklin’s are local gulls. 

From late September to mid-October and from late April to early May, sandhill cranes can be seen. Between the middle of May and the end of May, shorebirds and sparrows can be seen here.

sandhill cranes courting in tall grasses

Sandhill cranes perform elaborate courtship displays that include jumping up into the air and flapping their wings.


Blue Mounds State Park

The name of this 1,800-acre park comes from an exposed rock that is 100 feet tall and 1.5 miles long and seemed blue to pioneers traveling west. A significant concentration of Sioux quartzite exists beneath Blue Mounds State Park, which is primarily comprised of prairie and grassland. 

The only consistently dependable location in the state to locate a southern specialty species, the blue grosbeak, is Blue Mounds State Park, which is situated in Rock County in southwest Minnesota. Here, you might see the following birds:

  • A variety of sparrows
  • Bobolinks
  • Gray partridges 
  • Swainson’s hawks
  • Upland sandpipers
  • American woodcocks
  • Cuckoos
  • Orioles
  • Blackbirds
  • Sedge wrens
  • Meadowlarks

There is also plenty of other wildlife in this beloved Minnesota state park for the non-bird watchers. 

bobolink on top of branch of leaves

Bobolinks are related to blackbirds and orioles and have flat heads and sharply pointed bills.


Crosby Farm and Hidden Falls Regional Parks

Where the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi River, on the trails that connect Crosby Farm Regional Park and Hidden Falls Regional Park, is a well-liked gathering place for birds during their spring migration. In contrast to Hidden Falls, which has a spring-fed waterfall, wetlands, and mixed oak woodlands, 

Crosby has forested pathways, marches, and river sections. The best places to spot birds near streams and capture pictures of animals are both parks. Many birds call this area home, including Tennessee warblers, belted kingfishers, and broad-winged hawks.

belted kingfisher

Belted kingfishers are stocky, medium-sized birds with a 19–23 inch wingspan.

©Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock.com

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent spot to look for golden- and blue-winged warblers, eastern meadowlark, lark, and field, clay-colored, Savannah, and grasshopper sparrows for many reasons. For starters, it has a variety of habitats such as wetlands, grasslands, and forests.  

The seasonal wildlife of Sherburne also includes great egrets, eared grebes, red-headed woodpeckers, yellow-throated vireos, American redstarts, gray partridges, upland sandpipers, indigo buntings, dickcissels, northern harriers, and nesting sandhill cranes. Here, in or close to the marshes, bald eagles, black terns, Virginia rails, and soras build their nests. 

It is known that northern shrikes spend the winter in Sherburne, probably doubt drawn by the variety of songbirds that spend the season there. This 8-mile vehicle tour offers a 30,665-acre refuge in Sherburne County’s St. Francis River Valley where you may observe animals while driving. It’s located on the border of Elk River and Zimmerman, just north of the Twin Cities.

Birds with long necks: Great Egret

Great egrets, also known as common egrets, have all-white plumage.


McGregor Marsh

In the old bed of the glacial Lake Aitkin, there is a sizable wetland called McGregor Marsh. It covers the particular habitat specifications for Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow and the yellow rail, two highly prized birds that Minnesota bird watchers adore.  

The yellow rails that live here can be seen and heard most frequently in this sedge marsh in the area. This bird makes a sound at night that is similar to two tiny stones being tapped together. The yellow rail may be seen and heard most effectively in June. Coming prepared with both a powerful flashlight and a potent insect repellant might be a good idea. 

Sax-Zim Bog

In addition to the birds like the ruffed grouse, great gray owl, yellow-bellied flycatchers, boreal chickadees nest in this coniferous swamp in St. Louis County. Other summertime species to look out for are alder flycatchers, black-billed magpies, white-crowned, clay-colored, Le Conte’s, and white-throated sparrows. 

This 200-square-mile patchwork of creek side, cedar, and spruce bogs is home to a great gray owl who lives there all year. The bog is an excellent site to search for northern goshawks, northern hawk owl, snowy owls, and gorgeous woodpeckers throughout the winter. Sax-Zim is thus named because it is close to two little Minnesota towns with the strange names of Sax and Zim.

Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) lifts off and flies low, hunting over a snow covered field in Ottawa, Canada.

Snowy owls are almost pure white with dark brown spots and golden yellow eyes.

©Jim Cumming/Shutterstock.com

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge

Big Stone, spans the headwaters of the Minnesota River and is situated in Big Stone and Lac Qui Parle counties in far west-central Minnesota. This beautiful place includes 11,521 acres of marshes, woodlands, lakes, grasslands, and farmland. A vast range of environments results in a large range of bird species. 

When birds migrate in the spring and autumn, this location is spectacular. The American Bird Conservancy has named Big Stone a Globally Important Bird Area. More than 20 different species of ducks use the refuge as a primary resting place throughout their migration. You can also find sparrows, owls, orioles, and plenty of other birds at Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge. 

Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary

The Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary’s various natural habitats, which include grasslands, forests, and wetlands, make it an excellent place to watch a wide variety of birds. 500 distinct herbaceous and woody plant species may be found on the 15-acre location just outside of Minneapolis, along with over 100 resident and migratory bird species. 

The park is a portion of the larger Theodore Wirth Park, which spans 740 acres and has mud flats that are excellent for birdwatching. White-breasted nuthatches, Canada geese, Cooper’s hawks, Baltimore orioles, pied-billed grebes, and common yellowthroats are to be on the lookout for.

Cooper's Hawk with fresh kill

Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized hawks with large, wedge-shaped heads.


Frontenac State Park

Frontenac State Park is situated 450 feet above Lake Pepin, a section of the Mississippi River, among the county’s forested cliffs. This area has a variety of habitats, including oak savanna, forests, marshes, and a lake. Since the 1800s, Frontenac has earned well-earned notoriety for bird viewing. 

Hawks that are migrating can be seen in the autumn (sharp-shinned, broad-winged, and red-tailed). Overlooking the bluffs are eagles and turkey vultures. For birders, it is a well-known springtime location. As many as 27 different species of warblers have been recorded in a single day, making it a good migration trap.

Up Next

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Share on:
About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What birds are migrating now in Minnesota?

Martins, orioles, and hummingbirds have probably fled the state. At Hawk Ridge near Duluth, the raptor migration is best observed in the middle of the month. The most common raptors there are broad-winged hawks, although you could also observe American kestrels and bald eagles.

What US state has the most birds?

Alaska is the American state with the most bird species, with 530 different varieties.

What time of day is best to see birds?

Many birders walk outside at dawn because, as the adage goes, the early bird gets the worm. Birds fall asleep at night and must go out to feed in the morning because they are hungry. Avoid midday even if you can observe birds at other times of the day. Bird activity is at its lowest during noon.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.