Which animal is the first that comes to mind when you imagine the Minnesota Zoo? Perhaps the peppy penguins? The stealthy tigers? Or maybe you just can’t get enough of Kenai the grizzly. (Understandable, we know.) But these animals we’ve come to know and love aren’t the only ones that call the Minnesota Zoo home! You might just have to look a little harder for signs of some of these wild inhabitants…
The Minnesota Zoo is located on nearly 500 acres of land, much of it covered in woodland forest and dotted with freshwater ponds. These natural areas provide wonderful habitat to animals such as raccoons, fox, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, snakes, frogs and toads, and much more. In fact, you might have the opportunity to see some of these visitors the next time you’re at the Zoo!
Be sure to spend some time at the feeders along the the Minnesota Trail to catch a glimpse of some of our flighted friends. Commonly seen species include: downy and hairy woodpecker; black-capped chickadee; American goldfinch; Northern cardinal; white-breasted nuthatch; blue jay; and dark-eyed junco.
You may have also had the opportunity while enjoying your lunch outdoors to notice swans on the main lake of the Zoo. Trumpeter swans were once extinct from the state of Minnesota. Through conservation efforts such as coordinated breeding and releasing, there are now trumpeter swans nesting each year across much of the state. The trumpeter swans you now notice on the lake are descendants of the original captive breeding pair and return each year to nest.
And don’t be surprised if you notice other activity happening in and along the Zoo lake! The local snapping turtles are quite content to live at the Zoo and may even approach (quite slowly, they are turtles after all…) in search of a snack. While we love being able to provide these turtles with a home it’s best to not feed them, or any wildlife you may encounter. Wild animals can get sick from human food and may become dependent on it. Animals that become accustomed to humans can also turn aggressive. So it’s best for them and us if we ignore the golden rule of kindergarten and don’t share our treats with them!
In addition, the past few years the Zoo has been home to a very special animal. The rusty patched bumble bee was once abundant in prairies across much of the United States. Due to habitat loss, it now only exists in less than 1% of its historical range. The Twin Cities area is home to one of the remaining populations of this endangered bee and in 2019 the rusty patched bumble bee was designated as our official state bee. Minnesota Zoo researchers and staff have found rusty patched bumble bees visiting wildflowers throughout Zoo grounds! The next time you are walking through Russia’s Grizzly Coast or the Northern Trail, take a moment to look for these fuzzy visitors in our wildflower plantings.
We are fortunate that so many animals call the Minnesota Zoo home. Whether it’s the animated prairie dogs or the bees and butterflies fluttering along the Northern Trail, we hope you’ll visit us and your favorite wild animals soon!