'Like catching Pokemon': 5 tips for bird-watching in Minnesota

An American goldfinch.
The American goldfinch is widely found across southern Canada and the northern and central United States, including Minnesota.
Bob Dunlap | Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

More than 200 species of bird call Minnesota home. Each has a favorite slice of our state to catch a meal and raise their family.

Loons love the chilly lakes of the north woods. Meadowlarks prefer open, grassy fields. And pigeons — well, if you've stepped foot in just about any Minnesota town, you already know where to find them.

Seeking out the diversity of colors and songs in the bird world is a great way to explore Minnesota this summer. And you don't have to travel far — smartphone apps can teach you what birds are singing in your local park. You can also borrow a field guide from a library to help you decide — is that little bird a chickadee or a nuthatch?

A white-breasted nuthatch
A white-breasted nuthatch scurries down the side of a tree February 13, 2017 inside the Sax-Zim Bog near Meadowlands, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Dudley Edmondson has spent decades helping new birders get their bearings. Edmondson is a Duluth-based filmmaker, speaker and author. His books include “The Black and Brown Faces in America's Wild Places,” which highlights outdoor role models for the African-American community.

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As a teenager in northern Ohio, Edmondson spotted a peregrine falcon he says was the "spark bird" that got him into birdwatching. Forty years later, you can still find Edmondson behind a pair of binoculars.

"I'm a color fiend," said Edmondson, citing his love for vibrantly hued cardinals, blue jays and goldfinches. "When I see vivid colors, it's like jumper cables to my brain. I get really excited."

For first-timers, Edmondson said birdwatching is like catching Pokemon. "You're trying to get these special, unique things just by being in an outdoor environment. If you're a gamer and you like collecting things, birdwatching fills that niche."

Edmondson has spotted more than 500 species during his birding career. For those of us with far fewer birds on our "life lists," Edmondson shared five tips for getting started.

1) Start where you live

Birds are everywhere. In your yard, on your block and in your local park. Edmondson said the best way to start honing your observation skills is to watch and listen to the birds around you.

2) Use your phone

Download a bird identification app like Merlin Bird ID or iBird. When you spot a bird, just enter some basic info — location, size and color — and the apps provide an illustrated list of the most likely species. These apps also have recordings of each bird's songs.

3) Borrow binoculars for free

Binoculars are essential for birding. But if you're not ready to invest in a pair, you can borrow them from most Minnesota state parks. Many parks have family friendly guided birding events throughout the summer.

4) You don't need to be an ‘early bird’ (but it can help)

Edmondson said birds like ducks and geese can be spotted any time of day. Other birds like owls or nighthawks are most active after dusk. That said, plenty of small song birds do prefer the morning hours, which is why birdwatchers have a reputation as early risers.

5) Practice makes perfect

Like any other skill, you'll improve at identifying birds simply through repetition. "The more you do it, the more you learn," said Edmondson.

Test your Minnesota bird knowledge