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Minnesota Birds: Exploring Our Feathered Friends

Minnesota is home to many fascinating avian species…including some that grow rarer and rarer by the day. Whether you’re a visitor who’s curious about what feathered friends you’ll see on your trip or a bird watcher looking for your next destination, you’re in luck!

We’ve put together a list of many Minnesota birds you’ll see flying, waddling, or swimming in the North Star State.

If you want to keep tabs on which species you see, you can even print out this list and cross them off as you go!

A male Baltimore oriole perched on a hollyhock. Minnesota birds.
A Baltimore oriole.

Water Birds in Minnesota

If you’re looking for Minnesota birds near water, there are plenty to keep your eyes peeled for!

One such Minnesota bird is the Great Blue Heron. These birds earn the title “Great” for a reason—they can reach up to 54 inches (that’s almost five feet!) in height! Its wingspan can stretch to nearly six and a half feet. It sports beautiful silver-blue feathers that make it quite the sight to behold.

Another Minnesota bird you’ll find making its rounds in bodies of water is the tundra swan, also known as a whistling swan. However, when you hear this swan’s call, a whistle isn’t what will come to mind. The tundra swan’s call is a distinctive honk, though it is shriller than the calls of some other swan species.

A pair of tundra swans.
A pair of tundra swans.

If you think you can only spy a pelican near ocean shores, think again—Minnesota is home to the American white pelican! This Minnesota bird is in the running for the longest bird in North America (yes, even longer than the Great Blue Heron). Its length (measured from beak to tail) can reach up to six feet, and its wingspan can reach up to ten feet!

The American white pelican is the most commonly known pelican. You’ve probably seen its likeness depicted in many a book, sign, or card following a beach theme.

Lastly, if you’re visiting one of Minnesota’s many lakes (over 10,000, to be exact), you may catch a glimpse of an osprey. Ospreys are also known as sea hawks (not to be confused with the football team!), and they certainly play the part. These birds are prolific hunters and rarely arrange their nests far from water.

The Osprey is beautiful…and unique. They’re one of only two types of birds with reversible toes, which assist in their hunting methods.

Game Birds in Minnesota

Next up on our list of Minnesota birds are the game birds! Hunting is an extremely popular pastime in Minnesota for a good reason. There are myriad game birds to track down in this state.

One such Minnesota bird is the prairie chicken. These birds are easily recognizable by their striped feathers, as well as the giant egg-shaped orange “sacks” on the necks of the males. If you choose to hunt prairie chickens, you’ll also be setting yourself up for a successful dinner. Prairie chickens make for a delicious meal, and they can be cooked in many different ways.

Closeup of a prairie chicken.
A prairie chicken.

Pretty much anything you can do with ordinary chicken, you can do with prairie chicken. There’s nothing better after a long day of hunting than a hearty meal of fried chicken! Of course, prairie chickens aren’t your only options when hunting. You can also track some wild turkeys.

Wild turkeys are pretty sizable game birds in Minnesota, and they’re considered more of a challenge to hunt, as hunters often utilize turkey calls to draw them out. Many people enjoy taking part in hunting this particular species because they enjoy the strategic aspect.

Next up for game birds in Minnesota is the mourning dove! Many of you are likely familiar with the warbling, “mournful” coo of the mourning dove. It’s commonly associated with early summer mornings; the name is misspelled as “morning dove” because people usually see and hear them in the morning!

These birds are commonly hunted—not just in Minnesota but all over the United States.

Despite the sad and slow impression its name may give, the mourning dove is a speedy bird. It can reach speeds up to 55 miles per hour. That’s faster than a lion can run! This speed makes them interesting hunting targets, and their prolific numbers mean hunting does no harm to the overall population.

Endangered Birds in Minnesota

The list of endangered Minnesota birds is thankfully short, but it’s important to keep them in mind, especially when hunting. You don’t want to set your sights on an endangered bird accidentally—many times, hunting one of these species will incur a hefty fee.

One such species is the Sprague’s pipit, classified as a songbird. These birds are notable due to their tendency to sing their way across the sky rather than landing in trees to do their singing. They are currently listed as “Vulnerable,” which falls under the Threatened category of endangered species.

A brown and white Sprague's pipit.
A Sprague’s pipit.

The primary cause of this decline in population is habitat loss. The Sprague’s pipit is a very picky species when it comes to where it will nest; it doesn’t easily adapt to changes in its habitat.

Another endangered Minnesota bird to keep an eye out for is the cerulean warbler. Aptly named, this little bird is decked out in stunning blue feathers all over. At least, the males are. As is common for many bird species, the female’s colors are considerably duller in comparison to the male’s!

Currently, the cerulean warbler is listed as “Near-Threatened,” though due to its continued decline in numbers, this status could, unfortunately, continue to worsen.

Lastly, be sure to tread carefully if you’re lucky enough to lay eyes on a whooping crane. Thanks to overhunting, these cranes were nearly wiped out entirely; nowadays, they’re listed as “Endangered.”

Hunters are strictly forbidden to harm whooping cranes or even to remove already-dead ones from where they were found. However, bird-watchers can count themselves fortunate if they cross a whooping crane off their bird-watching bucket list!

Common Birds in Minnesota

These Minnesota birds are on the other end of the spectrum from the endangered species. These common birds can be seen in great numbers all across Minnesota!

A northern flicker on a tree branch.
A northern flicker.

One such common Minnesota bird is the Baltimore oriole, not to be confused with the baseball team! While listed as the state bird of Maryland, not Minnesota, these birds have no issue crossing state lines.

Thanks to their brilliant orange coloring, bird watchers will likely find it easy to track down these orioles. They don’t exactly blend into their surroundings. Even female Baltimore orioles sport fairly bright plumage, though their color leans more toward golden yellow rather than brilliant orange.

Another common bird to look for is the American crow. You’ve almost definitely spotted a crow before, but they’re still fun to look for. Their distinct caws and fascinating personalities make them entertaining to observe.

That’s right—crows have personality! They’re extremely intelligent birds; they’ve been observed learning to mimic human sounds and words, a bit like parrots can!

They’re also known as collectors. These birds have been documented multiple times bringing people little stolen trinkets, ranging from candy and gum wrappers to money. So, while you’re bird-watching, consider attempting to befriend a crow. You might be surprised by what they do in return.

Also, don’t be frightened if you hear someone call out, “It’s a murder!” A “murder” is the name for a gathering of crows. If anything, this phrase should excite bird watchers.

Another common Minnesota bird is the northern flicker, also commonly known as a yellowhammer. Northern flickers are fairly sizable woodpeckers. Their calls are described as “laughter-like,” but you’re more likely to hear the sound of their bills being driven against a tree. Woodpeckers aren’t the quietest species out there.

State Birds of Minnesota

It might seem odd that we’re going to discuss multiple state birds in Minnesota, but there’s a reason for it! For quite a while, the Minnesota state bird was actually considered to be the goldfinch. However, these tiny, gilded birds are already considered the official state birds for three other states.

Therefore, when the time came to name an official state bird, Minnesota went in a more unique direction. Nowadays, the common loon is known as Minnesota’s state bird—and they’re not sharing! They’re the only state claiming this bird as their own.

A loon swimming in a pond or lake.
A loon, the state bird of Minnesota.

However, the common loon is also beloved across the pond…one of Canada’s provinces, Ontario, has also chosen the common loon as its representative bird! The common loon falls under the water birds category of Minnesota birds. It’s also often called the “great northern diver.”

Common loons are one of the species of birds that mate for life…or at least, for a very long time. The same two loons will sometimes move on from each other later on, but they tend to stick together for quite a long time.

Common loons, similar to the osprey, primarily feed on fish; however, their hunting method is vastly different from the raptor. Instead of using talons, common loons dive underwater and catch their fish with their beaks.

Invasive Birds Found in Minnesota

A small dark-colored European starling on a rocl.
A European starling.

Lastly, let’s talk about an invasive Minnesota bird. One invasive bird species taking over Minnesota is the European starling. These starlings can cause problems by invading breeding spots for other native species, such as woodpeckers (like the northern flicker!).

They have a fairly healthy population in Minnesota and all over the United States!

Minnesota Birds FAQ

What does it mean to be an “invasive” species?

An “invasive” species is simply…

1. A species not native to the area

2. A species that threatens the continued existence of competing native species

For example, in Florida, there are two species of anoles (small reptiles): green anoles and brown anoles. Green anoles are native to Florida; brown anoles are not. They threaten the green anoles by taking over their favored nesting spots up in the trees, driving them closer to predators on the ground.

Therefore, brown anoles are an invasive species.

The same thing applies to certain birds in Minnesota, mainly the European starling!

Invasive species have a wide range of harm; some are merely a nuisance, while others cause huge upheavals in local ecosystems.

They occasionally can even drive native species all the way to extinction, as in the case of the rosy wolf snail, which has caused the extinction of several other species of snail.

Where are the best places to bird watch in Minnesota?

If you’re on the hunt (figuratively) for a glimpse of some raptors, you’re going to want to snag yourself a spot on Hawk Ridge. Hawk Ridge is an extremely popular site for bird-watchers to settle themselves in for a long day of birdwatching.

Hawks aren’t the only birds that swoop by this ridge, though there are many kinds of hawks you can expect to see, such as the red-shouldered hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk. You can also search for osprey, peregrine falcons, American kestrels, and more!

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is another location that should take priority on your birdwatching list. If you’re very fortunate, you might be able to see a bald eagle’s nest!

Are you allowed to feed Minnesota birds?

Once upon a time, back in 2022, bird flu was becoming frighteningly widespread among Minnesota birds. As a result, residents were asked to take down bird feeders and avoid offering birdseed to the Minnesota birds calling their properties home.

However, this recommendation has since been reversed, as numbers have gone down considerably. So, short answer: yes, you are once again allowed to feed Minnesota birds!

Just try to keep in mind whether these species are among those listed as “invasive.” We don’t particularly want to encourage these populations to grow.

Go Meet Minnesota Birds!

An osprey with a fish it has just caught.
An osprey with a fish.

Grab your binoculars, print out this sheet, and get packed for your Minnesota bird hunt—whether that’s an actual hunt or one just for pictures!

Minnesota is packed to the brim with countless bird species to discover; no matter what, you won’t be disappointed.

For more Minnesota outdoor activities, check out our guides to the Minnesota outdoors now!