Skip to main content

GRAND FORKS – February was a tough month to be a wildlife photographer. The freezing wind quickly blew away the warmth that remained in my hands when I was holding the camera. Through all of this, I’ve gained a lot more respect for birds that don’t have merino wool base layers and insulated jackets. There may not have been many good opportunities to go out with the camera, but when the sun shone, I took advantage of it.

Seth Owens, a junior fisheries and wildlife biology student at the University of North Dakota in Hillsboro, ND, takes his camera gear with him Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, on a birding excursion on along the Red River in Grand Forks.

Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

I’m Seth Owens, a lifelong North Dakota. Living in this state exposed me to a wealth of wildlife and nature that shaped and directed my upbringing. I am a junior at the University of North Dakota studying Fisheries and Wildlife Biology with a minor in English. I started photography in the spring of 2021, but the variety of wildlife in the area allowed me to practice with many different subjects and hone my skills.

I have loved birds since a young age, and this love has only grown as I have progressed in my schooling. I encourage you to get out and explore a bit. You never know how much is actually out there until you step out and get lost!

Saw-whet Owl – Grand Forks

The first major sighting of the month was a Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus). This little owl has been hanging out in Grand Forks for a few months and is definitely tougher than me in the cold. Saw-whet Owls are tiny little raptors that spend their days roosting and resting in conifers and spend their nights hunting small rodents. They weigh about 3.5 ounces, about the same as a deck of cards.

Female Purple Finch - Seth Owens
The female purple finch does not bear the namesake color, but resides in the trees. This one was part of a herd spotted in Grand Forks.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Purple Finch – Female – Grand Forks

A few days after the owl sighting, I came across a small flock of purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus). This female doesn’t wear the namesake color, but her sharply contrasting colors and curious eyes made her and her friends the superstars of the day. Like the Saw-whet Owl, purple finches reside in trees. They are often found in coniferous (pine) and mixed forests, but they won’t shy away from feeders in your wooded backyard. Try putting black oil sunflower seeds to attract them and other finches to your garden.

Bald Eagle - Seth Owens
Bald eagles are an inspiring sight. This one was photographed during a visit to St. Louis County, Minnesota.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Bald Eagle – St. Louis County, Minn.

There are few birds as impressive as the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). My friends and I were lucky enough to come across this raptor after taking a wrong turn! Their scientific species name, leucocephalus, literally translates to “head” (cephalus) “white” (leuco). It’s pretty easy to see how they came up with that name.

Black-capped Chickadee - Seth Owens
Black-capped chicadees are common in the northern United States. This one was photographed in Grand Forks.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

Black-capped Chickadee – Grand Forks and Willow-capped Chickadee – St. Louis County, Minn.

Where the bald eagle inspires respect and courage, chickadees tend to inspire quotes of “aww, how cute!” These two chickadees, the Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and Willow-capped Chickadee (Poecile hudsonicus) are very similar, but one is much more common than the other. Almost everyone has seen a black-capped chickadee, but you would have to search to find a boreal! Black-capped Chickadees can be found almost anywhere in the northern United States, but Willow Chickadees are found much farther north and rarely move farther south than the boreal forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Which do you think is cuter?

Pine Cardinal – Male and Female – St. Louis County, Minn.

Female Goshawk - Seth Owens
The female goshawk is gray with contrasting copper-gold hues on the head and back. This one was photographed in Minnesota’s St. Louis County.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

I didn’t expect to find a new favorite winter bird this year, I’ve always enjoyed Northern Redpolls and Owls, but I think the Northern Cardinal (Pinicola enucleator) takes the top spot now. These finches are huge. They easily outshine nearly all other birds that frequent feeders in the boreal forest. Like the Willow Tit, there are limited options for finding Pine Grosbeaks in the United States. Most of their range runs through the boreal and coniferous forests of Canada, but they dip into northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The males are extremely beautiful with a reddish-pink hue that attracts so much color and life to winter forests. Females are slate gray, contrasting with the copper and gold hues present on their head and back.

Male Goshawk - Seth Owens
A large finch whose range crosses the boreal and coniferous forests of Canada, the pine cardinal occasionally dives into northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Males exhibit a reddish-pink hue. This one was found in St. Louis County, Minnesota.

Seth Owens / Special for Northland Outdoors

February was a windy month, but taking every opportunity to get outside I was able to find several different birds that were extremely photogenic. For the next month, I look forward to a variety of spring birds starting to flock to the state, grouse becoming active in leks (community breeding grounds), and my spring break trip to view birds in central Florida. Hopefully the sunshine and warmth we experienced at the end of February will carry over into March.

How to follow Owens on social media: