Northern Winter Owls on the Iron Trail

Among the Iron Trail’s most sought after birds are owls of the boreal forests that winter in the Iron Trail region. The great gray, boreal and northern hawk-owl nest across boreal regions of northeastern Minnesota and the Iron Trail. Snowy owls nest in Sax-Zim Bog. These birds depend on prey whose numbers fluctuate greatly from one year to the next. The populations of voles, lemmings, snowshoe hares and other rodents fluctuate according to a general ten-year wildlife cycle. When prey is abundant, the owls stay in northern regions.

When prey is scarce, the owls move south. Dozens of these owls may be seen at Sax-Zim Bog during some winters. Snowy owls disperse widely and may be encountered throughout the Iron Trail, but Sax-Zim Bog is also a popular viewing spot for these elusive birds. The other three owls are more closely tied to forested habitats. At a time that the snowy landscape may seem devoid of life, the quest to see and photograph these owls heats up and draws persons from throughout the United States. One appealing characteristic of great gray, boreal and northern hawk-owl is that they can often be approached very closely because boreal wildlife species typically show no fear of humans.

Boreal owls are usually encountered in the northeastern counties. Great grays are also encountered in St. Louis County on the Iron Trail. They are particularly well known for the Sax-Zim Bog area. They can also be found on the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway. The northern hawk-owl is a diurnal species. It is found in coniferous forests, tamarack bogs and peatland habitats of the Iron Trail. They are encountered east to the Sax-Zim Bog of St. Louis County but are very erratic in their occurrences elsewhere. The best way to keep up with their movements and current wintering is to call or e-mail the numbers under the contact information. So get out your birdlist and get ready to check off Great gray, Snowy and Northern Hawk owls, and discover why the Iron Trail is “A Great Way to Getaway!”

Click here for a FREE Iron Trail Birding & Wildlife Brochure.

DNR Area Wildlife Office
2005 Highway 37
Eveleth, MN 55734