Winter Birding is a HOT Cold-Weather Activity!

Just because some animals settle down for a long winter's nap doesn't mean they all do. You'll find that Minnesota's Whitefish Chain Area is teeming with life even in the coldest months. Many types of birds stay active in the area all winter long, and in some cases it's your chance to see some truly spectacular birds. Winter offers a great opportunity to experience nature's beauty first-hand through birding.

Two trumpeter swans glide down the Pine River on a snowy afternoon. Photo by Kate Perkins

One of the water birds that's currently hanging out around the Whitefish Chain is the trumpeter swan, a bird that was once very rare in Minnesota. The bird is still on Minnesota's threatened and endangered list, according to the MN DNR, though, it has made a massive comeback from reintroduction efforts started in 1966. The trumpeter swan was believed to be gone from the state in the early 1900s, when the last record of a breeding population was from 1885. These birds live up to their names, often making raucous, trumpet-like sounds day and night. As the lakes completely freeze over, these birds will continue their journey south; but until then, they can be found on areas of open water. Try looking for them on either side of the dam in Crosslake. You may even spot seven swans a-swimming!

The pileated woodpecker is a winter favorite for many and certainly catches the eye at local feeders. At 15-19 inches long, the woodpecker is quite large. It's mostly black and white, but its bright red head stands out beautifully against the snow.

Owls are also fun to watch for and exciting to see. Keep an eye out for them roosting in the branches of leafless trees, especially in the early evening as the sun is setting. Barred owls are the more common of the owls in the area. Often you'll hear them without seeing them; their call sounds as though they're saying, "Who cooks, who cooks, who cooks for you?" You might also get lucky and see a snowy owl, which sometimes comes south into Minnesota from their more common home in Canada.

There are lots of other bird species to see in many other locations around the chain. You'll find chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, ruffed grouse and more. Download or print the Birds of the Byway tour guide and checklist and you'll have a great starting point for a day of birding. These brochures go along with the Birds of the Byway program, which details the many great locations around the chain to birdwatch along with the most common types of birds you'll see. You can also hire a local, qualified guide to show you around.

Don't let the cold frighten you- there's an immense amount of natural beauty to see and experience around the Whitefish Chain year-round.

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