By June, the craze of bird migration has slowed down, and Minnesota’s birds are settling in for nesting season. This is the time of year to take advantage of the habitat in our backyards that provide nesting habitat for the spectacular species that will stay with us throughout the summer.
One of the best ways to observe summer birds is without evening leaving your house. There are many ways to attract birds to your yard—foremost, by feeding them. It is easy to draw the brilliant, tangerine-colored Baltimore orioles to your yard with orange or jelly feeders. These tropical migrants love fruits. Orioles prefer to nest in cottonwood trees, so if you have any cottonwoods in the vicinity of your home, you may be lucky enough to watch the oriole parents raise their hatchlings. During summer, they feed on insects for most their protein—offering meal worms at your feeder can give them a boost.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds will also come readily to your yard, and are mesmerizing to watch as they hover over feeders. Hummingbird feeders can be acquired at local wild bird stores or hardware stores, and should be filled with a sugar water solution, according to the National Audubon Society. No red dye is needed, and pure sugar should be used in the recipe—alternative sweeteners could be detrimental to the birds’ biology. The feeder mixture can be easily made by boiling 1/4 cup of sugar in a cup of water. The feeder should be cleaned once or twice a week with hot water or a light vinegar cleaner.
Lakes and Rivers
Our proximity to the St. Croix River and hundreds of marshes and lakes makes the Northeast Metro an excellent place to observe nesting birds.
The small, wooded islands of the St. Croix become a nesting rookery for great blue herons, egrets, and double-crested cormorants. Venturing down the river by kayak or canoe is helpful to get a close-up look at these birds, but watching quietly from shore for a while can also reveal the enormous level of activity in a lake or river ecosystem.
Most local lakes have a nesting pair of loons and/or a nesting pair of bald eagles. The eagle nests are easiest to spot before summer leaves of grown in, but some of the largest have been recorded to be at least 20 feet across. These massive structures are often situated on lakeshores or nearby. They might be too high in the trees to see eaglets, but parents return to the nest frequently, often carrying a fresh fish dinner in their talons.
Look carefully along shorelines and marshes for secretive birds such as Virginia rails, sandpipers, waterthrushes, marsh wrens, and swamp sparrows.
Minnesota’s wide variety of ecosystems includes tallgrass prairie and oak savannah, which makes excellent habitat for prairies species such as sparrows, bluebirds, and meadowlarks.
Bluebird populations declined significantly during the rise of agriculture in the Midwest, but their populations are beginning to recover thanks to the efforts of volunteers and homeowners who place and monitor bluebird nesting boxes. The expansion of farm fields across the state decimated a large portion of the dead trees with hollow cavities that bluebirds require for nesting. A simple nesting box placed in the birds’ preferred habitat along field edges or fence posts can help alleviate this problem.
Afton State Park and the nearby Belwin Conservancy have acres of restored prairie habitat—and visits to Belwin have the added benefit of getting a look at the summer bison herd that helps to maintain the prairie ecosystem.
Many prairie birds can also be found sitting on fences and power lines in rural areas. Look for the spectacular patterns of dickcissels and bobolinks, as well as watchful predator species such as the fierce and tiny American kestrel.
Northern Minnesota is renowned for its rustic woodlands, but the woods in the Twin Cities area also provide great habitat for woodland species of birds. Though shy, thrushes can be found here all summer long. If you don’t see them, you’ll definitely hear their flutelike song echoing through the trees in the evening.
Owls can be found in Minnesota woodlands year-round—look closely in tree cavities for owl families peering out—especially the tiny northern saw-whet or screech owls.
Many woodpeckers also stay in Minnesota year-round, but summer increases the chances to see nesting red-headed woodpeckers. This species has declined significantly and has become something of a rare sight, but there is a steady population that can be found at Cedar Creek Ecosystem in East Bethel every summer.
Some warblers will stay hidden in woodsy thickets through the summer. The buzz of common yellowthroats is always in the background on warm summer days. The woods are a great place to practice identifying birdsong by ear, since birds are so difficult to see clearly in the dense cover of the forest.