Watch for Eagles, Swans & Owls
Bald eagles can be spotted all winter along parts of the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota where the water doesn't freeze. Dozens of eagles might be spotted at some locations, especially along a 5-mile stretch of the river between Wabasha and the tiny village of Reads Landing. Three scenic pullouts along Highway 61 near Reads Landing offer good viewing.
In Wabasha, the National Eagle Center offers viewing through spotting scopes and binoculars on a deck along the river, or on cold days, just inside through floor-to-ceiling windows. The center has exhibits about eagles and some resident eagles you can observe up close.
Although trumpeter swans generally migrate, hundreds of these magnificent birds winter along the Mississippi River at Monticello, northwest of Minneapolis off I-94, where the release of warm water from a power plant keeps the river from freezing. Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, more than 3 feet tall with a wingspan of about 7 feet.
The swans are an impressive sight, and can be viewed from a small park along the river in a residential neighborhood in Monticello. The best viewing time is mid-November through February. The Monticello chamber website provides interesting information about the swans and directions to the viewing site.
Owls are another bird to watch and listen for in the winter. Great grey owls and snowy owls are among the birds focused on at the Sax-Zim Birding Fest in mid-February at Meadowlands, between Duluth and Eveleth. The event includes speakers and field trips by bus to locations in this prime birding area.