Minnesota - Winter Birds of the Northern Forests

Tuesday 16th January – Wednesday 24th January  

Minnesota in winter offers unrivaled opportunities for northern owls, forest grouse, winter finches and adventure amidst the region's meadows, bogs and forests during its winter splendor. For many people the first image that comes to mind when thinking of Minnesota in winter is of frozen lakes, cold, snow and ice. To birders in the know, that image exists only as a glittering backdrop for Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls hunting from spruce-top perches, Sharp-tailed and Ruffed Grouse stripping Birch buds by morning's glowing light, legions of Snow Buntings wheeling in tight formation, flocks of colorful Pine and Evening Grosbeaks refueling at bird feeders, frenzied Common and Hoary Redpolls darting among Alder thickets and Tamarack bogs occupied by industrious Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers. Add in boreal forest residents like Spruce Grouse, Northern Goshawk, Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee; nomadic winter visitors such as Glaucous, Iceland and Thayer's Gulls; notable species like Snowy Owl, Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing, Red and White-winged Crossbill, Varied Thrush and Townsend's Solitaire and you begin to see the attractiveness of a midwinter visit to these northern climes. Still not convinced? Well, recent winter tours have also recorded surprises like Boreal Owl, Gyrfalcon, Barrow's Goldeneye, Slaty-backed Gull, Mountain Bluebird and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.
As we travel through many remote areas of northeastern Minnesota, our chances of turning up a few interesting mammals are quite good. Past winter tours have recorded Snowshoe Hare, Beaver, Porcupine, Long-tailed Weasel, Mink, Fisher, Moose and Gray Wolf. Spectacular species like Pine Marten and Lynx are also possible. 

As unbelievable as it might sound, northern Minnesota is a popular winter birding destination and there will be numbers of birders scouring the area for owls and rare birds. When you add the stark, yet striking, landscape and unpredictable weather, the atmosphere here is truly extraordinary. We'll use our experience to help you enjoy this one-of-a-kind adventure. Remember, we're there to look for northern owls, winter birds, experience the boreal forest in its winter splendor while helping you make it through your adventure with a minimum amount of discomfort and a maximum amount of enjoyment!



  • Harlequin Duck
  • Bufflehead
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Barrow's Goldeneye
  • Hooded Merganser
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Spruce Grouse
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse
  • Bald Eagle
  • Rough-legged Buzzard                   
  • Gyrfalcon
  • Thayer's Gull  
  • Slaty-backed Gull
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • American Three-toed Woodpecker
  • Black-backed Woodpecker
  • Grey Jay
  • Boreal Chickadee
  • Townsend's Solitaire
  • Varied Thrush
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Purple Finch
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • White-winged Crossbill
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Grey Wolf, Fisher, Pine Marten, Lynx or Bobcat   

Black-throated Sparrow by Kim Risen

DAY 1   UK - Minneapolis  - 16th January
Morning arrival in Minneapolis. We'll enjoy some local birding for owls, gulls or staked out rarities as time allows. Night Minneapolis

Days 2 - 3   Duluth, Superior and Northeastern Minnesota's Aitkin, Cook, Lake and St. Louis Counties
Our schedule is purposefully kept flexible for one reason—it allows us to travel at times and to locations that give us the best opportunities to find your target birds. We'll visit secluded boreal forests bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness searching for Spruce Grouse, Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Boreal Chickadee and the always entertaining Gray Jay. You'll travel Lake Superior's north shore and marvel at the simple beauty of ice kaleidoscopes along the rocky shoreline while we scan for ducks and gulls. Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers are the more expected waterfowl species but rarities such as Harlequin Duck and Barrow's Goldeneye have been found in recent years.

Superior, Wisconsin offers several vantage points to scan for raptors wintering in the harbor area and its landfill usually hosts a good variety of gulls. Raptor possibilities include Snowy Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and, if luck is with us, Gyrfalcon. A typical collection of winter gulls would include Herring, Glaucous, Thayer's, Iceland and perhaps a rarity or two. A highlight from 2012 was a lonely ice floe with three gulls lined up one in front of one another offering unparalleled comparisons of Thayer's, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and 2015 had that Common Eider—first live record since the mid-1960's!
The bogs, meadows and forests of St. Louis and neighboring Aitkin Counties are reliable places to find Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls. If snow levels are low enough, an assortment of Rough-legged Hawks and Snow Buntings are likely and these are the best areas for Ruffed and Sharp-tailed Grouse (sometimes displaying early on sunny days even in February!), Northern Shrike and Black-billed Magpie. Duluth and other cities of the Arrowhead region are wonderful birding areas unto themselves. Large numbers of Mountain Ash and Flowering Crab Apple trees are a magnet for Bohemian Waxwings and rarities like Varied Thrush and Townsend's Solitaire. Highlights from 2013 include finding more than 600 Bohemian Waxwings feeding voraciously on Mountain Ash trees and 2012 provided a cooperative Mountain Bluebird along Superior's North Shore. Well established feeding stations buzz with activity, and Common and Hoary Redpoll, Pine and Evening Grosbeak and the more common winter finches are all likely to be found. 
But it's those owls that remain so highly prized by visiting birders. While numbers fluctuate from year to year, Great Gray Owl is a permanent resident of this area, Northern Hawk Owl is an annual visitor and, during an owl irruption winter, anything goes. When such an irruption takes place, Minnesota's bogs, meadows and forests provide birding thrills that are one-of-a-kind. In 2005 we tallied more than 200 Great Gray Owls and more than 35 Northern Hawk Owls in a single county! That year proved to be the single greatest irruption ever to visit Minnesota, but even in recent years, daily totals of 10 or more owls were not unusual. Like the Great Gray, Boreal Owl is a permanent resident of Northern Minnesota, unfortunately, unlike the Great Gray Owl, they are NOT to be expected during a single visit. Our best chances are to hope for an irruption year or that one is found on a day roost during our tour. (Our leader is well connected with the region's active birders and the local network is always in contact.) Nights Duluth


Days 4 - 5  .   

Day 6   xxx
Day 7   xxx
Day 8  Duluth - UK - End of Tour  - 23rd January


LeadersKim Risen.
Ground Price: £2550.00 - Denver/Denver

Airfare: £700 - £850.00 (Approx) - UK/UK 

Zoothera tour prices explained
Single supplement: £350.00                


Group size: Minimum for tour to go ahead 6 and maximum 12 with 2 leaders.

Included in cost: Accommodation in twin rooms en-suite, ground transport throughout, all entrance fees, all group taxes, local fees, group admissions, toll fees, park entry and permit fees, and services of leaders.

Not included: International airfare, insurance, meals (see below), drinks, tips, laundry, room service charges, and items of a personal nature.

Meal Costs: Only meals indicated in the itinerary are included in the cost of this tour (included hotel breakfasts.) Because a person can eat quite well for as little as $35 per day or they can choose to spend three or four times that amount for a single day, depending upon your choices - we do not include meals where we cannot control the costs. Zoothera Birding has a policy of NOT overcharging one person to cover another’s POTENTIAL meal choices -which we would have to do if all meals were budgeted into the cost of this tour.

Accommodation: Our lodging, for the most part, consists of standard hotel rooms close to our birding destinations. These hotels are uniformly clean and comfortable with the standard hotel amenities (two-bedded rooms, private bathroom facilities, hot water, phone, etc..).

Tour Code: This is a standard birding tour, where early starts are necessary to reach lekking areas beore dawn and we also have some late finishes to look for owls. The weather at this time of year is extremely variable, so you will need to be prepared for all eventualities. But we do expect some snow at the higher passes and in the wide-open prairies it may feel rather cold for most of the day.





Receive our e-newsletter:
Join the Zoothera e-mailing list for up-to-date news on new tours, tour reports and special offers.  Click Here to sign up.







ATOL-LOGO-2013The air holidays and flights shown are ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is 10436. Please see our Terms and Conditions for more information.



Greater Sage-Grouse - Colorado by Kim Risen

The vast plains of Colorado will provide a stunning backdrop to our birding during this tour.