When northeastern Minnesota’s winters finally release their grip on the landscape, nature lovers crave every sign of spring. There are obvious signs like Canada geese returning north in V-shaped flocks and American robins hopping across the lawn in search of worms. Some signs, however, are more subtle but much more exciting to wildlife enthusiasts: the return of warblers to our woodlands. As forests take on the first hints of green, a diverse array of warblers return from wintering grounds that might have been anywhere from Georgia to Peru.
By early May the migration includes colorful warblers en route to northern nesting grounds. Most are not the common backyard species that we associate with bird feeders. These are insect eating species that have wintered primarily in Central and South America. They include the northern parula, ovenbird, American redstart, and black-throated green, blackburnian, cerulean, Canada, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, golden-winged, yellow, Tennessee, yellow-rumped, magnolia, prothonotary and black and white warblers.
Exploring the springtime Superior National Forest on the Iron Trail can be an enriching outdoor experience, and can occur in natural woodlands throughout the region. All are used in migration. The cold silence of winter is replaced by sensory overload from songs of warblers and a host of other springtime songbirds. And there are flashes of beautiful colors as flitting birds move through the forest in search of insect prey: orange of redstarts, glowing orange in the breasts of blackburnian warblers, bright yellow on yellow, magnolia and golden-winged warblers, and the deep chestnut color the bay-breasted warblers.
The best time to experience the spring warbler migration is from mid-April to mid-May. The peak migration days in any given year will vary depending on how early the warm temperatures bring on hatches of insects that provide food for these birds. In some years the birds move through in just a few days in early to mid-May. In other years the migration is extended over a couple week period through late May. There is about a two-week lapse from the first arrival of these birds in southern Minnesota until they arrive in more northerly portions of the state, including boreal forest nesting areas. Check with local bird club members, Minnesota Birding Network, and the Eveleth DNR for updates on the progress of the migration.
Enjoying the spring warbler migration requires a good set of binoculars and a field guide. It would help if you obtain a tape of birdcalls and review them before you see them. Once you have tried “spring warbler-watching” you will likely find it becomes an annual tradition for enjoying the outdoors in springtime northeastern Minnesota and the Iron Trail. We invite you to grab your birding scope and discover why the Iron Trail is “A Great Way to Getaway!”
* The large picture at the top of this page is a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Creator Jesse Achtenberg. Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
DNR Area Wildlife Office
2005 Highway 37
Eveleth, MN 55734