Some sandhill cranes migrate from the southern states up to Minnesota where they breed. Others fly past Minnesota and go all the way to Alaska. Some pass Alaska and nest in Russia.
Some species don’t migrate at all. Pheasants, prairie chickens, and sharp-tailed grouse stay year round. The tiny chickadee also overwinters here while a big fat mallard with an inch or more of insulating feathers heads south.
Snow buntings and redpolls migrate from Canada to Minnesota. For them, Minnesota is the south. The question each species has to face is whether it’s more difficult to survive a Minnesota winter, or to survive flying from Minnesota to South America and back. Both options are risky, which is why 80-90 percent of birds never see their first birthday.
The next time you see those migrants at the birdfeeder, imagine what those little bodies have gone through and all the places they’ve seen.
Greg Hoch is a prairie habitat evaluation ecologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stationed at the Farmland Wildlife Research Unit in Madelia.