Wildlife Viewing Areas
 Search the U.S.
Find an AnimalFind a Viewing AreaPlan a TripAboutContact


Purchase the Minnesota wildlife viewing guide
Explore Minnesota

Minnesota DNR

Minnesota State Parks

Sibley State Park
Sibley State Park lies in a transition zone between two ecosystems; where the Big Woods of the east meet the grasslands of the west. Plants and animals found here are representative of both. The area's lakes were formed about 10,000 years ago as glaciers passed through the state and deposited roc...
more info

Pigeon Lake Rookery / IBA
Description: The abundant lakes, marshes and small streams of the Pigeon Lake Rookery provide an excellent habitat and nesting ground for herons, egrets, pelicans and cormorants.

This site, with its three small islands, has been a significant rookery since before the mid-1960s and has been designated as an Audubon Minnesota Important Bird Area (IBA). The IBA, located in the south central part of the state, includes Pigeon Lake and the surrounding ponds and wetlands.

Although there are tall trees on the smaller islands, trees are quite short and nearly gone on the north island. Heavy use by nesting birds has killed much of the original vegetation, with mostly elm species remaining.

The sight of vegetation die-off at colony sites is sometimes startling to people, but it’s a natural process. Many people don't realize this phenomenon has been occurring across time.

Due to the deterioration of trees, herons and egrets now nest as low as six feet off the ground. Cormorants nest in both trees and on the ground, while the pelicans nest exclusively on the ground. Pelicans often use the open areas on the island as loafing sites as well.

Just a little general background on colonial nesting birds: During breeding season, the species mentioned gather in large colonies, known as rookeries, to nest. A rookery might have a few or as many as several thousand nests.

Different species build their nests at varying heights, from ground level to treetop. Great blue herons tend to occupy the highest tree branches while black-crowned night herons build nests nearer to the ground. Herons use dry twigs to build their sloppy nests. Often, they place the twigs so far apart you can look up through the bottom of the nest and see the eggs!

Colonial waterbirds nest in big groups for a good reason—more eyes watching out for predators. By constructing nesting colonies near streams, marshes and lakes (often on islands such as this site), the birds are safer from predators such as snakes, raccoons and foxes. Crows and bald eagles, however, still may raid the nests.

Pigeon Lake is very shallow and subject to heavy algae blooms in summer. The lake periodically suffers winterkill of fish, which provides food for predatory birds and animals.

Wildlife to Watch: Great blue and black-crowned night herons, great egrets, American white pelicans and double-crested cormorants are easy to see from the observation deck and in the air coming and going. Often the birds in flight are feeding on other area lakes and marshes. It’s more difficult to spot them sitting in their nests.

Listen and look for ring-billed gulls nesting on the islands as well. During southward migration, which may be as early as mid-July, search for shorebirds, such as least and semipalmated sandpipers, foraging along the shores of the north island.

A bald eagle nest is located just east of the IBA. The eagles regularly feed on carp and bullheads from the lake and also prey on young pelicans and cormorants on the north island. Juvenile eagles find it an easy place to get a meal.

Other species that may be seen during the summer include mallards, blue-winged teal, pied-billed grebes, American coots and Canada geese. There are some cattails along the shoreline in different parts of the lake where you might hear the unique “oak-la-ree” trill of red-winged blackbirds as they sway on the breeze. Getting a glimpse of a yellow-headed blackbird or green heron is possible too, but you’ll have to search a bit harder to find a secretive sora rail or long-billed marsh wren.

Special Tips: People aren't allowed on the island during nesting season. Access is discouraged at other times to avoid damage to the nesting habitat. Young waterbirds do not tolerate disturbances. Frightened herons and egret chicks may fall out of the trees and be deserted by their parents if people enter the colonies. Please do not take a boat to see them.

The best way to view the colony is to use binoculars or a spotting scope from the scenic overlook off MN Highway 15. There is parking, but no other amenities.

NOTE: MN DNR Ecological Resources has administrative authority over the islands, but MN DOT owns and maintains the observation area.

Land Manager Contact:
Nongame Wildlife Program
Minnesota DNR
261 Highway 15 S
New Ulm MN 56073-8915
(507) 359-6033

Other Activities: Although nest structures are present year around, best viewing of colony activity is during May-June.

Waterfowl hunting in fall on the lake, but the colonial birds are pretty well gone by that time.

Ownership: MN DNR 
Size: 301 acres, with the 3 islands being about 10 acres 
Closest Town: Dassel / Litchfield

ParkingHandicap AccessibleSmall BoatsRV Pullout

Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing:

Rookery - Photo by Leroy Dahlke, MN DNR
Please use Map Link below

Driving Directions:
From junction with MN Hwy 12 by Dassel, go south on MN Hwy 15 about 3.4 miles to MNDOT Scenic Overlook turnout on south side of road. This spot overlooks the northwest corner of the lake and one of the island rookeries.

From Hutchinson: Drive 10 miles north of Hutchinson until you see the island on the east side of Highway 15.

Map Link

Pigeon Lake Rookery / IBA : Wildlife Viewing Area