Observing wild animals in their natural habitat, also known as wildlife watching, is one of our state’s most popular types of outdoor recreation! Did you know over 1.5 million people enjoy wildlife watching in Minnesota each year? Find out what all the hype is about by trying it out for yourself! Your adventure could take place just about anywhere – your back yard, the playground at school, or even a wildlife preserve on the other side of the state!
You could watch a backyard bird feeder, or look for turtles while paddling through one of our famous lakes. Maybe you could try to net prairie butterflies, or set a trail camera to catch a glimpse of black bears in the north woods! Below you’ll find our best tips for getting the most out of your outing. You’re sure to have a great time enjoying our state’s wild animals!
Our Top Tips for Wildlife Watching
Pick a time when you know the species you’re looking for will be active. Many animals are easy to spot during their mating season, when they are busy looking or calling for mates. Some animals, such as birds, frogs, moose, and elk, call loudly at this time, which makes them easier to find. Migration seasons are also good times to look for certain types of animals, especially birds and some insects. Remember, even if it’s the right time of year to find your animal, you need search during the right time of day as well. Some animals are more active at night, dawn, or dusk. Look through our Meet the Animals! page for more information on Minnesota’s wildlife.
You can also meet other like-minded people at outdoors skills classes. These classes are often held by outdoors outfitters; the next time you go shopping, ask about classes on topics such as outdoor cooking, kayaking, or backpacking. Also keep an eye out for wildlife watching tours or festivals, particularly for bird watching. Festivals will often include guides to help you find and the animals you’re searching for. One sort of festival, aimed at all types of wildlife, is a BioBlitz. A BioBlitz is often a 24 or 48 hour event where animal experts and the public come together to spot as many types of animals as possible.
– University of Minnesota’s Monarch Larva Monitoring Project: Sign up to monitor a patch of milkweed for eggs and caterpillars throughout the summer!
– Minnesota Dragonfly Society: Join a dragonfly and damselfly survey event, or submit your records from your own dragonfly search!
– Minnesota Frog and Toad Calling Survey: Sign up to monitor a route each week for frog and toad calls!
– Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union: Submit your bird sighting lists!
No matter the season, be sure to bring water and a hat. Staying hydrated, and having extra water just in case, is one of the most important tips for a comfortable and safe outing. A hat will keep you cool and free from sunburns in the summer and fall, and keep you warm in the chilly Minnesota winters and springs. Also, if you are going out alone, be sure to let someone know where you’re going!
Another idea is to start a life list! Life lists are checklists of animals a person sees during his or her lifetime. A life list usually includes the species name, where it was seen, and the date it was seen. These lists are especially popular with birding enthusiasts, but you can keep a life list of any animals you see! A long life list not only entitles you to bragging rights, it will also help you remember each adventure. Keeping a life list also adds another level of excitement to your outings; you’ll be thrilled to add new species (‘lifers’) to your list!
Remember, the best way to remember your outing is to bring home photos, notes, and brochures. You might be tempted to collect rocks, leaves, or bones you might see, but these items should be left alone. Remember it’s against federal law to take songbird feathers unless you have the proper permits; it’s also against state law to take wild animals without a license.
–Binoculars: A pair of binoculars is a great start; you can use them to see just about any kind of animal!
–Field guides: Field guides are books for helping identify the animals you see. Be sure to pick a good guide that gives details about each animal, and includes maps of where each species can be found. Trail cameras: Trail cameras can be a good way to see wildlife living on your property that you might not normally see. These cameras are especially good for spotting species that are mainly active at night.
–Digital camera: Taking photos is a great way to remember the animals you find. Photos also help you share your memories with others! This is very important if you find a rare animal.
–Spotting scope: This is a powerful device that helps you spot animals that are very far away, like ducks on a lake. You can use a spotting scope for watching animals or taking close-up photos.
–GPS: A hand-held GPS is helpful for recording where you saw something you need to remember. It can also help you navigate if you are going on a long hike.
–Kayak or canoe: A light, quiet boat is very useful for getting up close to all kinds of wildlife! Paddling along a lake shore can help you get closer to animals that are often shy, such as ducks, shorebirds, pond turtles, beaver, muskrat, frogs, and dragonflies.
–Blind: A blind is a tent used to watch nearby animals; they are often used by hunters looking for game. Blinds are great for watching neat behaviors, like prairie chicken or sandhill crane mating displays.