Spring Migration at Lake Calhoun

We may live in the city, but nature, though often drowned out, is still there and capable of putting on a show. I live near Lake Calhoun and this is spring migration season. This year the birds are coming through, and in greater numbers than usual.

We had an early thaw this year, but normally the red breasted mergansers arrive the first day the ice recedes from the shore. How they know it is a mystery. Do they have scouts? Like most of the migrants, they hang around for a couple of weeks and they’re gone until fall.

Red breasted merganser

Red breasted merganser

Most numerous are the coots, little round black birds with white beaks.


They gather in the southwest corner of the lake and dive for food.

IMG_2255 copy

My wife and I have watched a drama worthy of a PBS nature show when one of the local bald eagles comes cruising by. The coots gather together in a tight pack. When the eagle swoops down to take one, they all flutter their wings and splash water. This seemed to confuse the eagle, who came up empty after several runs.

Mixed in with the large flocks of coots, probably also to discourage predators, are a number of other species. Today I saw pied-billed grebes, eared grebes and horned grebes. At first glance they look like coots, being shaped about the same, but their heads and colors are much different. The eared and horned grebes are striking and well worth bringing your binoculars to the lake.

Pied billed grebe.

Pied billed grebe


Eared grebes

Eared grebes


Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Today’s coot flock also hid four types of ducks–red heads, buffleheads, lesser scaups and blue winged teals.

Red head duck

Redhead duck


Bufflehead duck

Bufflehead duck


Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup


Blue winged teal

Blue winged teal

In the past week I’ve also seen canvasbacks.

Canvasback duck, not to be mistaken for a redhead.

Canvasback duck, not to be mistaken for a redhead.

The ducks vary from year to year, but I’ve also seen northern shovelers and goldeneyes in the past. Trumpeter swans appeared a couple of years ago.

The loons are back. Two or three of them will stay all summer in different corners of the lake, usually a few hundred feet from shore.


Soon the warblers should come through. It’s an exciting time of year.


Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.


5 Responses to Spring Migration at Lake Calhoun

  1. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino April 17, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    Ran around the lake for the first time this year on Saturday, was reminded of this A+ and award-winning post:


  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke April 17, 2017 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks for this great bird roundup! I love me some grebes and duck variety.

  3. karen April 17, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Great post, and great pics. Thanks

  4. Russ Booth April 18, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

    This article, and a 3 mph west wind, was the reason I took off work early yesterday to paddle the Minneapolis chain of lakes.

  5. Minneapolis April 28, 2017 at 12:35 pm #

    Great article, helped me identify the coots.

Note on Comments

streets.mn welcomes opinions from many perspectives. Please refrain from attacking or disparaging others in your comments. streets.mn sees debate as a learning opportunity. Please share your perspective in a respectful manner. View our full comment policy to learn more.

Thanks for commenting on streets.mn!