As the monochromatic landscape of snow and ice begins to transform into color with delicate tree buds and determined flowers, Northern Minnesota welcomes back its feathered residents. Spring is a prime time for viewing – and hearing – the state’s large variety of birds, from waterfowl to raptors. Whether you are a seasoned birder, or curious naturalist, spring on Rainy Lake hums with possibility, as dozens of species of migratory birds return to nest and raise their young. The following is month-by-month guide to the season’s variety of spectacular color and song.
March: While snowstorms are still likely, Northern Minnesota also experiences melting during this time. As pussywillows begin to open and hepatica blooms, butterflies emerge from hibernation. Waterfowl, including swans, begin returning. Canada geese are common, and it’s possible to see a Ross’s goose within flocks of snow geese. American kestrels appear, as do Eastern bluebirds, American robins, killdeer, great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, tree swallows, American woodcock, and common grackles.
During this time, bald eagles follow the progress of melting lakes. And, because their population has grown over the years, there are now unparalleled opportunities to see the majestic birds on Rainy Lake throughout nesting periods and while raising their young.
Another returning resident during this time is the wood duck. Males are covered in iridescent chestnut and green feathers with accents of purple, blue and red, as well as striking black and white patterns. A distinctive ornate crest flips off the back of their heads, and their eyes are ringed in bright red.
April: As trees begin to fill with leaves, migrants and nesting birds make their return, filling the forests with a riot of color. Some of the most anticipated sightings are the spectacularly hued warblers, which include yellow-rumped, common yellowthroat, Tennessee, yellow, American redstart, palm, orange-crowned, black-and-white, Nashville and chestnut-sided.
Adding to the kaleidoscope of color during this time is the Scarlet Tanager, a famously gorgeous bird with a blood-red body set off by jet-black wings and tail. When trying to spot the elusive bird, listen for its unique chick-burr call it makes. Also visible now is the Northern Cardinal, rare worldwide, but thriving in Northern Minnesota. The male’s song can be heard throughout the spring as a cheer, cheer, cheer or birdie, birdie, birdie. Their rich, red-hued bodies are set off by a crest on their heads and black on their faces.
May: The color continues as the season progresses, with the inclusion of ruby-throated hummingbirds, red-eyed vireo, northern parula, rose-breasted grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles. Bright orange with black and white on head and back, the Oriole winters in Central America, but is a common Minnesota favorite.
In April and May, Minnesota’s most iconic bird, the common loon, returns to Rainy Lake to nest and raise their young. Minnesota has more common loons than any other state except Alaska, and their distinctive, haunting calls can be heard across the lake throughout the spring and summer.
Whether you’re hoping to add to your sighting list, or are content simply seeing a variety of color, the area around Rainy Lake during the spring is a bounty of bird-viewing opportunities.
What is your favorite Rainy Lake birding memory? Let us know in the comments down below!
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Select photography by Kallie Kantos