Bird migration is in full swing on the Whitefish Chain


Loons have returned to their summer homes on the Whitefish Chain

Minnesota’s favorite birds have returned to their favorite state, with more on the way. Loons, great blue herons, hawks and raptors have all made their returns, while hummingbirds, orioles and other colorful songbirds are currently on their flights north.

“Birds are just starting to arrive so it’s a fun time to be out,” said Judd Brink, owner of MN Backyard Birds and bird watching guide. “Every day it’s like something new shows up.”

Migration for the Whitefish Chain area of Minnesota starts in March, Brink said, and goes until the first week of June. The second week of May, he said, is when things really start to get active.

The iconic song of the loon is now a regular occurrence, being heard in the evenings from the shore of the Whitefish Chain. The osprey nests on County Road 11 (map) and on County Road 66 (map) are occupied once again, and the pairs of birds that have taken up residence can be frequently seen nearby, tending their nests or carrying fish from nearby lakes.

Brink said that one fascinating way to watch the migration of birds is to look at the radar on your computer or your phone's weather app in the middle of the night, around 2 or 3 a.m. Many birds migrate mainly at night, and they migrate in such numbers that the moisture in their bodies is reflected on weather radar. They show up as what birders call "donuts."

Radar Migration

A weather radar showing "donuts" caused by flocks of birds as they migrate through the state. Image courtesy of Judd Brink

In addition to the birds who call Minnesota their summer homes, other birds are currently passing through Minnesota as they head farther north to their homes in Alaska and Canada. Brink said these include mostly shore birds. Tundra swans, for example, are currently travelling through the area. Brink said that the migration is an exciting time for birders, with the chance to watch thousands of birds drop out of the sky to rest on their migration journey.

According to Birds of Minnesota, a field guide by Stan Tekiela, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, lesser yellowlegs, mergansers, and snow geese are among the birds that can be seen in Minnesota during their migrations.

Visitors are bound to see their share of birds, but for those who'd like to make treks just for bird watching, Birds of the Byway is a great resource for birding, detailing all the best stops for bird watching on the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, which surrounds the Whitefish Chain. Birds of the Byway also has a comprehensive lists of birds that live in the area and what times of the year you're most likely to see them.

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