The Itasca State Park IBA is limited to, but includes all of Itasca State Park. Itasca State Park is located 20 miles north of Park Rapids Minnesota and 30 miles south of Bemidji, Minnesota along Hwy. 71. Main travel routes to Itasca State Park are well signed and easy to follow. Maps of the park are available on site.
Minnesota is divided into 23 ecological subsections, Itasca State Park is located in Pine Moraines and Outwash Plains subsections. Soil types are primarily sand and loam.
Vegetation consists of large red and white pine, aspen, birch, jack pine, northern hardwoods and lowland conifers. Old growth conifer and hardwood stands are found throughout the park. Itasca?s old growth includes Minnesota?s largest red pine and one of the state?s largest white pines. Numerous lakes, streams and vegetated wetlands are also located within the park boundaries. Itasca State Park is also nationally known for being home to the Mississippi River Headwaters.
Tourism and Recreation are important commodities for the park and surrounding area. Approximately 500,000 people visit the park yearly. Opportunities are available for day use activities as well as multi-day use with lodging available at both private and public facilities. Hundreds of miles of trails are available which can provide the opportunity for a wide variety of birding opportunities.
Itasca State Park supports this with 222 species of birds being identified within the park boundaries. Itasca?s extensive stands of boreal forests with mixed hardwoods provide excellent habitat for many northern species such as crossbills, gray jays, finches, thrushes, black-backed woodpeckers, and warblers. Over 20 species of warblers nest in the park. Itasca has been a site for rarities such as Minnesota?s second record of a magnificent hummingbird, a second record for the magnificent frigatebird and a third record for Williamson?s sapsucker. In addition, an out-ofrange parasitic jaeger, lark bunting and prothonotary warbler have been recorded. The 222 species recorded in the park and the large potential breeding list confirms Itasca State Park as one of the premier birding areas in Minnesota. Several threatened and species of special concern are known to frequent Itasca State Park. These include the trumpeter swan, bald eagle, red-shouldered hawk and hooded warbler. The University of Minnesota maintains the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Field Station within the park boundary. Students and faculty conduct research as well as monitor a variety of species in Itasca State Park. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program monitors the Bald Eagle Territories located within the park. Data has been collected for approximately 30 years and surveys are currently completed every 5 years. Itasca State Park generally has 3-4 active Bald Eagle territories.
Great Blue heron colonies have also been located within the park, records indicate that several rookeries were present between the years 1924 and 1990. Colonies have been monitored by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The park receives approximately 500,000 visitors annually. Areas of high traffic are likely to receive some disturbance and possible threats to local flora and fauna. Known areas of unique species are protected and preserved by relocating traffic and limiting access.
Invasive and non-native plant species are also present in the park. Of the non-native plants species found in Itasca State Park, spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) appear to be spreading and out competing some native populations. Others such as bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), yellow sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis) and birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) are present but don?t appear to be spreading beyond their current locations. Other tree and shrub species non-native to the park include tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), Siberian pea-tree (Caragana arborescens), and common lilac (Syringa vulagris) whose populations are limited to a small area.
Terrestrial exotic animal species also exist within the park. Night crawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) and other worm species are present but not considered a major threat at this time.
Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), Asia longhorned woodborer ( Anoplophora glabirepennis), common pine shoot beetle (Tomicus piniperda) and Dutch elm disease (Ophiostoma ulmi) are all species considered to pose a serious threat to many of the flora native to the park.