Maplewood Nature Center – a fall birding ‘hotspot’

A hermit thrush, first to arrive in the spring and last to leave in the fall, is caught in a the mist net at the Maplewood Nature Center. Each year worldwide, millions of birds are safely captured, banded, and released unharmed.

Measurements include wing cord, tail, and determining amount of fat by gently blowing on the feathers on the throat, upper breast, stomach and underwing. Condition of feather molt, sex and age indications are also noted.

Measurements include wing cord, tail, and determining amount of fat by gently blowing on the feathers on the throat, upper breast, stomach and underwing. Condition of feather molt, sex and age indications are also noted.

Members of the North Central Bird Observatory weigh and measure the songbirds and record the data on Fall Bird Banding Day Oct. 1.

Roger, a member of the North Central Bird Observatory, releases a banded slate-colored junco. According to common folklore, juncos are snowbirds and arrival means snow in three weeks.

Flickers, like the one above, will be stopping by the Maplewood Nature Center soon on their way south for the winter.

Thousands of birds stop by to refuel

It’s that time of year when birds are on the move. Thousands of birds that nest in Canada and northern Minnesota are migrating through the Twin Cities right now on their way to their warmer wintering grounds. 

Many stop off at Maplewood Nature Center to feed on the park’s native plant seeds, insects and pond critters before continuing their journey south. 

On Oct. 1, North Central Bird Observatory led a songbird banding program at the 40-acre nature center, and had a record turnout of local participants. 

Those who attended the banding program watched licensed biologists capture, band and release songbirds to learn about age, migration and populations.

The group set up nets and caught one ruby-crowned kinglet, one brown creeper, 12 white-throated sparrows, four hermit thrushes, one red-bellied woodpecker, two black-capped chickadees and six slate-colored juncos. They also recaptured one black-capped chickadee. The birds were banded and then released back into the wild.

The Maplewood Nature Center’s lead naturalist Ann Hutchenson says that bird banding can be used to research the population and health of birds as well as find out what species are moving through the area at what time of year.

She adds that banding year-round resident birds can also show the lifespan of individual birds. She explains that recently, a naturalist at the nature center re-caught a cardinal that had been banded at the nature center about a decade ago.

According to Konnie Her, a naturalist at the Maplewood Nature Center, each band has a series of letters and numbers that form a unique identification code for that bird. The information about the bird as well as the date and location of the banding are logged online, so that if the bird is recaptured the information can be compared.

Hutchenson says the nature center, located at 2659 E. Seventh St., one block west of Century Avenue, has become known as one of Ramsey County’s top “hotspots” among birding hobbyists.

She attributes this to the varied habitat. The pond, cattail marsh and abundance of forest edges make it an ideal place for birds to nest in the summer or stop to eat on their way south for the winter.

“These birds are migrating ... thousands of miles for some of them. They need these feeding stopovers or they will starve,” Hutchenson says. She adds that this is just one reason why natural areas in urban settings, like the Maplewood Nature Center, are so critical. 

Hutchenson says that she recently led a group of English-language learners on a bird walk, and many immigrants, who themselves traveled many miles to get here, were fascinated by the distance and migration patterns of the area’s birds. 

Hutchenson notes that some of the region’s songbirds fly over a thousand miles south in the winter and over a thousand miles back again each spring.Her says that many of Minnesota’s nesting songbirds travel to Florida, while others migrate to the Bahamas, Mexico and Central America.


Fall migratory birds

John Zakelj lives in the Battle Creek neighborhood of St. Paul, and says he makes sure to visit the Maplewood Nature Center at least once a week to hike the trails with his binoculars and camera in hand. 

He has been birding for about 40 years and says he is drawn to the hobby because it can be surprising.

“You never know what you might find. It’s always different because [birds] are always on the move. I also try to get pictures so that’s always a challenge,” Zakelj says. In his case, there have been quite a few special sightings at the nature center. So far this year he has seen 104 different bird species in the preserve.

Hutchenson says this week golden-crowned kinglets, northern flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers and dark-eyed juncos are among the list of birds stopping by the Maplewood Nature Center on their way south. 

“This past month we saw a lot of different kinds of warblers, and now recently there’s been different kinds of sparrows coming through, and some of the migrating ducks are yet to come,” Zakelj says.

Her says that yellow-rumped warblers and white-throated sparrows stop by the nature center on their way south, and these two species are particularly abundant there right now.


Fall bird feeding

For those who enjoy attracting wild birds to their homes, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website recommends adjusting the foods and the feeders with each changing season. 

For example, the DNR recommends a greater amount of millet mix or cracked corn now than in the summer. It states that migrating native sparrows and juncos, which visit in the fall, enjoy these types of food, but millet and corn aren’t appropriate in the summer when they primarily benefit house sparrows, grackles and cowbirds.

“About 30 percent of the bird food in the fall should be white proso millet or millet mixes scattered on the ground-feeding sites. Red proso millet and milo (grain sorghum) are used much less than white proso millet, and are generally unnecessary as an ingredient of fall bird seed mixes,” states the DNR website.

For fall bird food, the DNR also suggests shallow trays of mealworms for many different species of birds including cardinals and robins. Eastern bluebirds will also eat mealworms in addition to dried fruits.

To help our year-round birds get ready for winter, the DNR website recommends peanuts, peanut pickouts, peanut butter, commercial suet cakes and suet from the meat market. 

The DNR website recommends holding onto your fall brush trimmings for the season to form temporary perches and hiding places for songbirds migrating through the area. 

“The size of the brush pile should be three to four feet high and four to eight feet in diameter, and it should be located about 10 feet from your feeders. Any closer and it may provide a hiding place for cats to ambush the birds,” it states.

“Create your brush pile when you see the first fall migrants, such as white-throated sparrows, arriving at your feeders, then dispose of it in late November to early December when migration is complete,” the DNR website adds.

Whether you prefer to attract birds to your home or spot them in the wild, fall is an exciting time to birdwatch. 

According to the Maplewood Nature Center website, the fall migration for warblers starts in mid August, although most other migratory birds travel between September and November. 

“Based on, which is a citizen science website ... people have found 152 species” at Maplewood Nature Center over the years, Her says. 

“Every now and then we see a bald eagle at the pond there. Even though it’s kind of a small pond for an eagle, they do show up sometimes,” Zakelj says. 

He also saw many wood ducks this year in addition to a wide variety of warblers and several different species of hawks, which can be fun to watch.

“There’s a family of great-horned owls that lives there. They’ve had two or three [fledglings] every year for at least four or five years,” Zakelj says.

For those who want to walk the trails and see the area’s variety of fall birds for themselves, the Maplewood Nature Center visitor center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. 

The trails wind through oak woods and marsh, and are open every day from dawn to dusk. The center is operated by the city of Maplewood and the facilities are free of charge. 

In addition to the birdlife and beautiful fall colors, visitors walking through the nature center in the fall may see “colorful berries on dogwood and highbush cranberries, [in addition to] an assortment of asters ... primroses and gentians,” which are still blooming, according to Carole Gerens, a naturalist at the Maplewood Nature Center.

For those who prefer to learn about birds and other wildlife in a more formal setting, the Maplewood Nature Center offers community events led by naturalists. 

• A Thursday Morning Bird Walk event is planned from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Oct. 20. Participants will learn how to identify birds by sight and sound. 

After the hike, participants will learn how to enter the observed data onto to contribute to science and conservation studies. All ages and all skill levels are welcome. Participants are asked to wear closed-toed walking shoes and register in advance.

• Outstanding Owls will be offered by the nature center on Friday, Oct. 28, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Participants of all ages will meet a live owl up close and learn fun and interesting facts about owls. 

Beginning at 4:30 p.m. there will be a Halloween Hijinks Puppet Show and a tasty treat. The Raptor Center presentation will be at 5 p.m. and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. older kids can dissect owl pellets, while younger ones make an owl craft. Participants will learn owl calls and go on a night hike around the pond in search of these nocturnal birds of prey.

Participants are asked to dress for the weather and to register and prepay $5 by Wednesday, October 26. 


To register for either program visit and click in the Register Online Go button. For help registering, call 651-249-2170. 


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or


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