the Fall season and the movement of birds

Here in Minnesota, the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union (MN’s statewide bird club at has designated the following range of dates for the 4 seasons when reporting and documenting birds for the official MN list. It seems these dates are more in tune with the movements of birds.  

Summer: June 1st to July 31st

Fall: August 1st to November 30th

Winter: Dec 1st to Feb 28th

Spring: Mar 1st to May 31st

You will notice that the fall season is the longest, 4 months; while the summer season is the shortest. It does seem like northern MN’s summers are way too short. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler - MyrtleAccording to birds summer is the season to raise families. Many of our neo-tropical migrants, which include the Wood-Warblers and Vireos, spend only 6-8 weeks up north. They establish territories, build nests, lay eggs, raise young and then its back to their real homes in Central and South America. It is such a short season that when these beautiful Warblers leave the area it is very sad for me. In fact, the singing part of their summer sojourn is even shorter – some only sing their territorial songs for 3-4 weeks. That’s why it’s so important to be out there every day in May and June – you never know what you might hear!

Alas, now that summer is over and the young are raised, the families will start moving south. But you know that’s another exciting time – Fall Migration! Just think of all the Warblers that nest further north in the vast boreal forests of Canada – some of them will be moving through Minnesota on their way south! And they will be taking their time – foraging and building strength as they grow new flight feathers to prepare for the long and arduous flight south. Some birds like our tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds on the Yucatan peninsula. They need to put on fat reserves for that non-stop flight.

Winter starts Dec 1st – migration is pretty much over by December – although there can be a few stragglers and then there’s also the OVER-WINTERING BIRDS that fail to migrate south. Winter can be an exciting time, birds from further north come south to Crane Lake to winter like the PINE GROSBEAK our “Northwoods Cardinal”. Then every so often we will experience an irruption like in 2005 when hundreds of Great Gray Owls invaded our area.

Spring of course is a time of year when we see the “re-birth” of nature. It is almost so exciting that I can hardly stand it! The birds are anxiously moving back north to their breeding grounds – it can be a frenzied time of the year! You have to be out there every day looking and listening so you don’t miss anything. If there is some inclement weather or a late spring, some birds will linger in the area until they can move north – like this spring when we saw large rafts of Loons on the lake waiting for the ice to go out up north in Canada.

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