Watching Wildlife

A birding trip participant and ranger point at a bird in a tree.

Introduction

Part of one of the most important migratory flyways in North America, the Mississippi River provides a 2,350-mile continuous watercourse from southern wintering areas to northern nesting areas. Situated in the middle of a densely populated urban area, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area supports a surprising variety of environments for a diverse population of birds and wildlife. There are many places to watch for birds and wildlife, these are just a few:

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

4th St E, St Paul, MN 55106
The 29 acre Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary is being restored to its native plant communities and the wildlife is returning. Two small ponds attract waterfowl and the uplands are home to grasslands bird species. Turkey vultures, bald eagles, and redtail hawks soar along the sandstone bluffs.

Coldwater Spring

5601 Minnehaha Drive South, Fort Snelling, MN 55111
This former Bureau of Mines campus has significantly changed in the last few years. The buildings that dominated this location are gone (except for a few historical remnants). In their place is prairie and oak savanna restoration. Wood ducks, mallards, eagles, hawks, indigo buntings, several species of sparrows, and many other birds now call Coldwater Spring their home and more seem to be arriving every year.

Marshall Terrace Park

2740 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418
Marshall Terrace Park provides an excellent view of nesting blue herons on an island in the Mississippi River. Watch pair bonding activities, nest building, squabbling among neighbors, feeding of chicks, and other fascinating behavior. Viewing is available from from late March through early to mid-summer, but best viewing occurs before the trees begin to leaf out. Binoculars and spotting scopes are recommended but the birds often fly close to the park.

Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area

Parking lot (southeast): 7501 110th St S, Cottage Grove, MN 55016
Parking lot (northwest): 10299 Hadley Ave S, Cottage Grove, MN 55016
Grey Cloud Dunes consists of a large expanse of dry prairie consisting of sand dunes laid down at the conclusion of the last glaciation. The dunes provide habitat for grassland wildlife including reptiles and birds. Many grassland birds either nest or migrate through here and it is a great place to find sparrow species that are rare in other areas of the park.

Schaar's Bluff

8500 127th St E, Hastings, MN 55033
Schaar's Bluff, part of the Spring Lake Park Reserve, overlooks the Mississippi River from high bluffs. Birding can be very good in spring as warblers and other small birds migrate up the river and stop here to spend the night, rest, and feed in the trees along the bluff. Eagles, hawks, and vultures often ride the thermals that form over the bluff, often flying past at eye level!

Coon Rapids Dam

9750 Egret Boulevard Coon Rapids, MN 55433
At Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park just north of the west side of the dam is an osprey platform. Hiking south along the river takes one to a view of a heron rookery. Along the way, watch for beaver, otter, mink and muskrat. Wading and songbirds are frequently seen as well. On the east side of the dam is Cenaiko Lake where yellow warblers are often found in the willows. In spring, watch for migrating waterfowl both above and below the dam.

Fort Snelling State Park

101 Snelling Lake Road, St. Paul, MN 55111
Hiking within Fort Snelling State Park along the river and backwaters will provide many opportunities for birding and wildlife watching. The mud flats are great places to spot the track of animals that make their home there. Deer, beaver, muskrat, turkeys, mink, otters, and other animals make their home here. Deer watching is particularly good in fall on Picnic and Pike Islands and eagle watching is good year round. Dragonflies are common near water features in summer and migrating birds are common along the river.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

3815 American Blvd. East, Bloomington, MN 55425
Stretching along the Minnesota River from the Fort Snelling area to Jordan, this national wildlife refuge includes eight different units that provide resting, nesting, and feeding for many animals, waterfowl, and migratory birds. Trails leading from the visitor centers offer great bird watching, especially during migration.

Point Douglas Park

14742 US 10, Hastings, MN 55033
Point Douglas is just outside our park, but it is a great winter and spring birding area for migrating waterfowl so we'll include it here. Because of currents at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers, open water persists here in all but the coldest of winters. A wide variety of waterfowl ranging from ducks, mergansers, and swans overwinter and eagles, intent on finding food, haunt the area as well often swooping down on the waterfowl hoping to spot one that is vulnerable. Some springs bring large concentrations of waterfowl to the confluence as they wait for lakes and marshes to thaw further north. This is probably one of the better places to see unusual migrants, such as long-tailed ducks.

Hidden Falls Regional Park

1313 Hidden Falls Dr., Saint Paul, MN 55116
Hidden Falls Regional Park is popular for many reasons, but is a great place for spring birding. Take the trails behind the north entrance picnic shelters through the woods, along the river, and out to the river below Lock and Dam 1 (Ford Dam). This hike is especially productive in spring (late April through May) when the warblers are migrating, but it is a pleasant hike at any time of the year.

Last updated: August 21, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101

Phone:

(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

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