This Important Bird Area is located northeast and southwest of the city of McGregor in Aitkin County. Access is via Hwy 65 north from the Twin Cities and Hwy 210 west from Duluth. Extensive wetlands and lowland forest are separated by areas of upland forest creating a rich mosaic of habitat types. The area covered by this IBA is extensive (67,175 acres) and is well-known to birders and biologists as a premier site for birds.

This site is comprised of a variety of federal, state, and county ownerships plus some private land that is centered around the Rice Lake NWR. State lands include the Kimberly WMA, McGregor Marsh SNA, Grayling WMA and McGregor Marsh WMA plus county land holdings. The City of McGregor is included because of its location adjacent to significant habitat areas. Major species of interest on this IBA are waterfowl, especially the ring-necked duck fall migration, yellow rail, Nelson?s sharp-tailed sparrow, sharp-tailed grouse, and the American bittern.

Ornithological Summary

The McGregor IBA has important habitat for many bird species. This includes wetlands, lowland forests, upland deciduous forests, open brushlands and open grasslands. This area is probably best known for the fall ring-necked duck migration, but also has a variety of nesting birds of interest (such as the American bittern, yellow rail, sora, black tern, sandhill crane, 12 species of nesting warblers ( including the golden-winged warbler), trumpeter swan, bald eagle, American woodcock, wood thrush, black-billed cuckoo, LeConte?s sparrow and bobolink.

Conservation Issues

Drainage: McGregor is situated within sedge wetland habitat (yellow rails call during the breeding season in town). Drainage affecting the town of McGregor also affects the surrounding sedge wetland. If maintaining the current sedge wetland is a priority, cooperative work needs to be done to meet McGregor?s needs with a minimum impact to the surrounding wetland. The Ditch 5 reroute proposal would minimize impacts to the sedge wetland just east of town, however current opposition wants no drainage at all and is impeding efforts. Aitkin County has the authority to clean out the existing ditch to the original depth. This could have more negative effect on the sedge wetland than the reroute.

Invasive or Non-native Plants: Certain non-native species have been found within the IBA. These species left unchecked could take over wetland, open grassland and forested areas and therefore have very negative impacts on native bird populations. A low intensity awareness by agencies staff is in place. If species are detected they may be documented and treated. No invasive species mapping projects are in place. The small leafy spurge area is sprayed annually.

Succession: Lack of fire, which has maintained some communities, is a problem in some areas. Some of the sedge wetlands are succeeding to brush making it less suitable habitat for marshbirds and other sedge wetland dependent species. Rice Lake Refuge and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have established prescribed burn programs and cooperatively burned a large unit (4,600 acres) in 2004 to reduce brush within the IBA. Both agencies have plans to continue to use fire as a tool to set back succession within the IBA. McGregor Marsh does not have a recent burn history and should be watched to see if brush reduction becomes necessary.

Predators: Researchers from the Natural Resources Research Institute link the declines in ground nesting forest bird populations to increases in populations of medium sized predators (skunks, raccoons, etc.) and increases in forest fragmentation over the last several decades. With more predators with better access into forests, more nests are depredated. Rice Lake Refuge is working towards closing openings within the forest to create larger blocks. The Aitkin County Land Department and Rice Lake Refuge are coordinating management across their shared boundary to maintain forest continuity.

Ownership

This site is comprised of a variety of federal, state, and county ownerships plus some private land that is centered around the Rice Lake NWR. State lands include the Kimberly WMA, McGregor Marsh SNA, Grayling WMA and McGregor Marsh WMA plus county land holdings. The City of McGregor is included because of its location adjacent to significant habitat areas.

Habitat

The McGregor IBA has important habitat for many bird species. This includes wetlands, lowland forests, upland deciduous forests, open brushlands and open grasslands.