This central Minnesota Important Bird Area is a great place to watch courting Western and Clark’s Grebes in spring and as many as 50,000 Purple Martins in late summer.
By Carrol Henderson | Published: 4/22/2011
One of the greatest courtship spectacles in the world of birds can be observed every spring on Lake Osakis: the barging displays of mated pairs of Western Grebes. The birds rush across the surface of the water for up to 20 meters before diving. The lake has excellent habitat not only for Western Grebes but also for a few Clark’s Grebes, which are at the eastern limit of their range. Other species to watch for in spring include Red-necked, Eared, and Horned Grebes, Forster’s and Black Terns, American White Pelicans, and Common Loons.
From mid-August through early September, another avian spectacle occurs at the south end of the lake. Every evening at sunset, more than 50,000 Purple Martins swarm over the lake and settle into the emergent vegetation to roost overnight. While waiting for the martins to appear, watch for Western and Clark’s Grebes, Franklin’s Gulls, and a few Bonaparte’s Gulls. Late summer is also a good time to scan shallow wetlands or flooded fields for migrating Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, and other shorebirds. — Carrol Henderson
Carrol Henderson is the nongame wildlife program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the author of many books about birds. He wrote about Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in our June 2007 issue.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Deep lake (to 73 feet) about 11 miles long and up to three miles wide. Shoreland habitat with shallow prairie lakes, scattered grasslands, and wetlands in a prairie landscape dominated by agricultural cropland.
Mostly level. Good birding by car for shorebirds and grassland birds.
Spring: Western, Red-necked, Clark’s, Horned, and Eared Grebes, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, Forster’s and Black Terns, Common Loon, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Spotted Sandpiper, Henslow’s Sparrow, Wilson’s Phalarope, Marbled Godwit. Late summer: migrating shorebirds, Purple Martin, Franklin’s and Bonaparte’s Gulls, Western and Clark’s Grebes.
When to go
May and June for grebes; mid-August through early September for martins.
DNR public boat ramp in Osakis, as well as gas stations, stores, and restaurants. Lodging and boat rental info at www.lakeosakismn.com.
State-owned lake. Most surrounding land is private. To view birds along country roadsides, ask permission of landowners.
The best way to see the grebes and martins is to rent a boat or pontoon. Maintain a respectful distance from the birds and do not harass them. To see grebes, anchor the boat or pontoon in a bay near areas of grebe use and let the birds come to you. In general, the south end of the lake is the best spot for watching martins. The timing of the spectacle is fickle, and the birds sometimes move their roost to nearby lakes.
For more info
At the intersection of I-94 and County Hwy. 3. Site of a colony of Great Blue Herons, egrets, cormorants, and night-herons.
Sibley State Park
One hour south of Osakis off Hwy. 71. Transition zone between eastern woodlands and midwestern grasslands. Ruffed Grouse, Bobolink, warblers, and waterfowl.