My 14 Best Bird Watching Spots in Minnesota You Should Try

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases with no additional costs for you.

Minnesota is a state in the Midwest that is 225,181 km2 in size. The state is known for its many lakes. Over 400 bird species have been observed and noted in Minnesota, making this one of the wealthiest states in birdlife.

The best bird watching spots in Minnesota are at places like Hawk Ridge, where you can see the raptor migration, and at areas with lots of habitats, such as Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Snelling State Park, and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. 

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 14 birding spots in Minnesota:

Hawk RidgeBroad-winged Hawk and Golden Eagle
Agassiz National Wildlife RefugeBlack Tern and Sandhill Crane
Lost River State ParkBlack-backed Woodpecker and Spruce Grouse
Roseau River Wildlife Management AreaYellow Rail and American Bittern
Sax-Zim BogBoreal Owl and Snow Bunting
Sherburne National Wildlife RefugeBlue-winged Warbler and Bald Eagle
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife RefugeHooded Merganser and Willow Flycatcher
Big Stone National Wildlife RefugePied-billed Grebe and Dickcissel
Felton Prairie Important Bird AreaGreater Prairie-Chicken and Hudsonian Godwit
Tamarac National Wildlife RefugeGolden-winged Warblers and Common Loon
Rice LakeRing-necked Duck and Ruffed Grouse
Fort Snelling State ParkRing-billed Gull and Belted Kingfisher
Baker Park ReserveYellow-bellied Flycatcher and Ruddy Duck
Pine Island State ForestSpruce Grouse and Northern Hawk Owl
Best Places to Bird Watch in Minnesota

Please read below to learn more about my best birdwatching locations in Minnesota, including which bird species you can look for in each place.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Minnesota
Best Bird Watching Spots in Minnesota

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Minnesota

Minnesota includes three main vegetation zones: boreal hardwood forest, prairie, and broadleaf forest, which are suitable bird habitats. 

1. Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is 43,000 acres in size. The range of habitats includes forests, grasslands, bogs, and lakes. You can find northern conifers and various mixed hardwood trees in the refuge.

The diversity of habitats means many birds can be found in the refuge. Birds you can find here include Bald Eagles and Common Loons. 

You can also find bird species like the Trumpeter Swan, Sandhill Crane, American Woodcock, and warblers. Warbler species to look out for in the refuge include the Golden-winged Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Nashville Warbler.

Both the Bald Eagle and the threatened Golden-winged Warbler nest in the refuge. At least 235 species have been recorded in the refuge based on the checklist.

2. Hawk Ridge

Hawk Ridge is 235 acres and is commonly used to count migrating raptors. This is a road that takes you up past Lake Superior, providing good views of raptors that are passing by.

This is a well-known birding hotspot and the place to be in September if you want to see thousands of migrating raptors.

Birds you can see here include Broad-winged Hawks, Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks. Other birds of prey spotted here include Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, American Kestrels, and Ospreys.

3. Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge

Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge is 61,500 acres in size. It includes many habitats, including coniferous bogs, aspen woodland, oak savannah, tallgrass prairie, and impoundments. At least 300 bird species have been observed in the refuge at one time or another in these various habitats.

Birds you can find here include Sandhill Cranes, American White Pelicans, and nesting terns. Some birds that breed in the refuge include Black Terns and Franklin’s Gulls. You should check the edge of wetlands for Least Bitterns, which like to skulk about in reedbeds. 

You can also find nesting Short-eared Owls, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Nelson’s Sparrows, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the refuge. 

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

4. Lost River State Park

Lost River State Park is close to the Canadian border, so winter can be freezing here. For this reason, it is recommended to bird watch here from spring to fall when the weather is better. If you do choose winter to visit, you should be dressed warmly.

Bird species in the forest include Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Great Gray Owl, Mourning Warbler, and Connecticut Warbler.

5. Roseau River Wildlife Management Area

Roseau River Wildlife Management Area is an important area for waterfowl conservation. This state-managed area is 81,000 acres in size. There are several pools situated along the Roseau River in this area. 

The bird species to look for include the following: American Bittern, Yellow Rail, Marsh Wren, Sedge Wren, Northern Shoveler, and Gadwall. 

6. Sax-Zim Bog

This area is located northwest of Duluth. It is a region where you can bird watch quite a bit from the car, but there are also some hiking trails you can walk on.

Bird watchers who visit in winter often look for owl species, which are expected at this time. Such species include the Boreal Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Great Gray Owl, and Northern Hawk Owl.

Red Crossbills, Hoary Redpolls, Snow Buntings, Northern Redpolls, and Pine Siskins are most often seen in February. You can find more information about Sax-Zim Bog, including access to a map of the area.

7. Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

This is a 30,700-acre refuge that was created on a glacial plain. There are diverse habitats here, including grasslands, forests, and wetlands.

There are hiking trails, an information kiosk, and a visitor center in the refuge. You should drive the Prairie’s Edge Wildlife Drive, which has bird-watching observation platforms. You can get views of Bald Eagle nests from the platforms.

Birds breed in the refuge include Sandhill Cranes, Least Bitterns, Wild Turkeys, and Redheaded Woodpeckers. You can also see warbler species, such as the Golden-winged Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler.

Grassy and marshy areas have bird species like the Grasshopper Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Bobolink, and Dickcissel. 

TOP TIP: Read this guide to discover the best seasons for bird watching in your State. Can you feed wild birds during the winter months? Find out all you need to know in this article.

8. Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge includes over 14,000 acres of habitat. The habitats found in the refuge include grassland prairie, forest, and wetland. 

The birds you can find here include Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, and Trumpeter Swans. It would be best if you kept an eye out for Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles, both of which breed in the refuge.

In spring, it is advisable to check the foliage around the Bass Ponds for migrant species such as Baltimore Orioles. You can also find Willow Flycatchers and American Redstarts in the trees.

Marshy sections of the refuge can be perfect for finding species such as Sora, Marsh Wren, and Virginia Rail. 

9. Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge

This preserve is situated on the state’s western side and has a range of habitats available for birds. You can bird watch along the lakes, woodlands, marshes, and tallgrass prairie.

The bird species you can find here include Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Marbled Godwit, Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, and Northern Harrier. It would be best if you also watched for birds like Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, and Pied-billed Grebes.

10. Felton Prairie Important Bird Area

The prairie includes public and private lands, so you must avoid trespassing onto private land. The region is in west-central Minnesota, and besides upland prairie, includes sedge wetland habitat. You can access and download a checklist of the birds of Felton Prairie to use on your trip.

This is an excellent spot to find Greater Prairie-Chickens, Lark Buntings, and Bobolinks. Other species of conservation interest include Upland Sandpipers and Hudsonian Godwits, which also occur in the prairie. 

You should also keep an eye out for the following warbler species that have been seen here: Blackpoll Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Black-and-white Warbler. 

Waterfowl species found in the region include American Wigeons, Mallards, Cackling Geese, Red-necked Grebe, Common Loon, and Horned Grebe. Raptors to watch out for include Rough-legged Hawks, Prairie Falcons, Swainson, and Ferruginous Hawks.

11. Rice Lake

Rice Lake is in the east and central area of Minnesota. The area is essential for conserving waterfowl. Bird species you can find there include the Common Loon, Trumpeter Swan, American Bittern, and Ring-necked Duck. The Ring-necked Ducks occur in the thousands in October in this refuge.

You should search for Black-billed Cuckoos, Olive-sided Flycatchers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the trees. Yellow Rails live in marshy lake areas but may be difficult to see because they are secretive.

Ruffed Grouse occur in the wooded parts, and Golden-winged Warblers are also found in the refuge in areas with shrubs and trees. Sandhill Cranes are often seen in open fields here.

12. Fort Snelling State Park

This is an excellent bird park since it contains a river, lowland riparian vegetation, marshes, and forests. The park is in St. Paul, where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers join. The trees in the park include willows, cottonwoods, and ashes.

There is a checklist of species you can refer to if you visit this park. Birds to watch on the water include Blue-winged Teals, Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, Canvasback, Pied-billed Grebes, and American Coots. Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants are commonly found in or near the water.

Warbling Vireos and Red-eyed Vireos are present in the vegetation, and you can also often see a Belted Kingfisher by the river.

13. Baker Park Reserve

This 2,700-acre reserve is situated on Lake Independence. There is a campground so you can stay overnight, which is beneficial if you want to find nocturnal species like owls. A total of 199 species have been recorded in the reserve.

You can find bird species such as Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Vesper Sparrow, and Great-crested Flycatcher. 

There are many waterfowl species found on the lake. These include Bufflehead, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, and Hooded Merganser.

14. Pine Island State Forest

This forest is considered one of Minnesota’s best spots to see boreal birds. It also includes part of the Big Fork River and associated marshlands and peatlands. There are several areas of pine trees scattered throughout the peatland, hence the name Pine Island.

Birds include Spruce Grouse, Great Gray Owl, and the Northern Hawk Owl. Several warblers can be seen in the forest as well.

Such bird species include the Cape May Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Canada Warbler. Woodcocks, Common Snipe, and Whip-poor-wills also occur in the area.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Minnesota

There are certain times of the year when birding is optimal for particular types of birds, but you can bird at any time. 

Hawks and other raptorsSeptember
Best Time to Bird Watch in Minnesota

The Minnesota State Bird

Common Loon - The State Bird of Minnesota
Common Loon – The State Bird of Minnesota

The Common Loon, Gavia immer, was designated as the state bird of Minnesota in 1961. These are large diving birds. They quickly identify with their black and white plumage and long bills.

The upper parts of the birds are black and gray, while the underparts are white. The bird has a long body and a short tail. In breeding season, these loons have white markings on the black plumage.

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

Bird Watching Laws in Minnesota

Birds are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This law applies to all birds except for Pigeons, European Starlings, and House Sparrows, which are not indigenous birds.

You also may not disturb birds’ nests without a permit. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act means that these birds and their nests are protected; it is illegal to disturb their nests in any way.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Minnesota has many wetlands that attract waterfowl, but there are also many other habitats such as prairie, woodlands, bogs, broadleaf, and boreal forests.

This range of habitats means the state offers many places to see birds. As a bird watcher, you should plan a trip to Minnesota since it offers many opportunities for seeing exciting birds. 

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

Recent Posts