Arboretum News

Winter Birds

February is an excellent month for birding at the Arboretum.

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Bird overwintering at the Arboretum visit a bird feeder in winter of 2019. Photo by Chris McNamara.

By Liz Potasek

While the cold temperatures might be keeping us inside this week, birds are still on the move. February is an excellent time for birding, says Alan Branhagen, the Arboretum Director of Operations and an avid birder, because many wintering species have reached their farthest south movement and begin the process of migrating back north. 

Birding at the Arb

With 1,200 acres of green space, the Arboretum attracts birds year-round. This winter we’ve placed bird feeders near the Ordway Shelter, Johanna Frerichs Garden for Wildlife, Maze Garden and outside the Arboretum Cafe windows. 

In addition to the bird feeders, there are a lot of natural food sources for birds. “We have an excellent crop of crabapples and spruce cones at the Arb which will continue to attract birds,” Branhagen says. 

This winter Branhagen has noted a Townsend’s Solitaire around the Snyder Building and gardens to the west of the building. “It has been routinely feasting on the berries of the Korean Mountain-Ash next to Snyder,” he says. “It’s a bird that nests in the Rockies and very rarely winters eastward in places like here!”  

Townsend’s Solitaire. Photo by Joel Claus.

He’s also observed some White-winged Crossbills, which are irregular winter visitors from up north, he says. “They are best seen in the Spruces by the Hedges and along the beginning of Eastern Drive,” Branhagen says. “They are up in the tops of those tall trees feasting on seeds in the spruce cones and can be very quiet so you have to look. Sometimes I locate them because they cause the cones to drop.”  

If you take Three-Mile Walk, you might notice a bunch of overwintering American Robins feasting on the various crabapples.

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo by Joel Claus.

During this year’s Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 19, Joel Claus spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the Arboretum, which is an unusual sighting for Minnesota. Claus, who has been a very active birder for the past 25 years, has been participating in the Christmas bird count since 2000 and has been monitoring birds at the Arboretum for the Christmas Bird Count since 2013. He also noted the White-winged Crossbills and the Townsend’s Solitaire for the count. (His biggest find on a Christmas Bird Count was the Pine Grosbeak that he spotted at the Arb in 2017.) “Every year is a little different,” he noted.

Pine Grosbeak spotted during the 2017 Christmas Bird Count at the Arboretum. Photo by Joel Claus.

If you’re birding at the Arb, Branhagen says he’s watching for Bohemian Waxwing, Red Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Grosbeak and Common Redpoll. If you see any of these at the Arb, please let us know by emailing

“Driving Three-Mile drive during these extreme cold spells is a good way to bird comfortably, and you can go around the loop as many times as you want,” Branhagen says. “There are several pull offs to allow other vehicles to pass by.”

Find a list of birds sighted at the Arb and keep track of the birds you find with our Bird Checklist.

Backyard Bird Count

This weekend professional and amateur birders will gather (virtually, speaking) for the Great Backyard Bird Count from Feb. 12-15. Spend 15 minutes or more watching birds and keep track of the species that you see to contribute to the count. You can watch them in your backyard or your favorite place for bird watching.

If you’d like to make your backyard more welcoming to birds, learn more about feeding your feathery friends from University of Minnesota Extension.

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