Winter 2017

Whooo Knew? Owls in Roberts

Last autumn, visitors to Roberts who looked up at the large willow tree on the east end of Bossen Lane were often treated to the sight of a Great-Horned owl.

Nothing illustrates the value of an urban sanctuary such as Roberts more than its role as a refuge for owls. Though these nocturnal predators need a large territory, they can survive in settled areas as long as they have a place for shelter, roosting, and breeding.

By far the owls most frequently encountered in Roberts are Great Horned Owls, one of the largest owls anywhere – in the northern hemisphere, only Snowy Owls are heavier. Great Horned Owls feed primarily on rabbits and other small mammals, but can eat birds and other animals. Their nests are found in Roberts every few years – in 2011, a pair nested right alongside Bossen Lane, and raised one young successfully. Hundreds of people were able to watch their typical nest: an abandoned crow or squirrel nest, which the owls take over and pretty much destroy by the end of the nesting season. Otherwise, these owls are frequently seen roosting, particularly in the big willows along the south side of Bossen Lane in the eastern end of the Sanctuary. They are easiest to find when groups of crows can be heard harassing them.

Eastern Screech Owls are probably regular visitors to the Sanctuary, but these birds are small, highly nocturnal, and nest and roost in holes, so not easily encountered. A pair nested further west around Lake Harriet in 2016. We need to get out and listen for their calls in late winter and early Spring.

Barred Owls are occasionally seen in Roberts, and a pair of young were present in Spring some years back, so they might have nested in the Sanctuary. But Barred and Great Horned Owls do not coexist well, so Barred Owls are generally unexpected.

Other possibilities are Saw-whet owls and Long-eared Owls. Members of Friends of Roberts found a Long-eared Owl during Spring migration in 2008 (betrayed by mobbing robins and chickadees).

For more information about owls and other birds in the Sanctuary, contact Steve Greenfield at

Hey lovebirds, love birds?

Join Friends of Roberts for a Special Event!

Tuesday, February 14, 5:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Roberts Bird Sanctuary Visitor Shelter

Friends of Roberts will celebrate Dr. Roberts' birthday (February 16, 1858) with a Valentine's Day event. Munch on cookies and sip hot cocoa while strolling through the Sanctuary to appreciate the beauty of this rare undeveloped natural area preserved for birds and other wildlife. Walk and listen for the calls of owls!

This free event is for singles, couples and families who want to celebrate their love of birds and Nature. Be prepared for winter trail conditions--wear boots and bring a flashlight! Please also bring your own cup for the hot cocoa. 

For more information about this event, visit our Facebook page or contact Mary Ellingen at

Happy Birthday, Dr. Roberts!


Thomas Sadler Roberts was born on a farm near Philadelphia on February 16, 1858. His parents, John and Elizabeth Sadler Roberts, moved their family to Minnesota in 1867, seeking relief from John's advancing tuberculosis through the fresh air of the Upper Midwest. [Henry David Thoreau had also traveled to the Upper Midwest in 1861 for the same reason.] John's outdoor regimen included walks and long buggy rides in the Minneapolis countryside, and Thomas acquired his love of birds on natural history excursions with his father.

In 1874, Thomas Sadler Roberts and three like-minded friends formed a nature study group, calling themselves the Young Naturalists' Society (YNS). They wanted to investigate and document the flora and fauna of Minnesota, and to promote the love of natural science. Their collection of about 500 specimens of rocks and fossils, birds, insects, and pressed plants was eventually part of the state's first survey of geological and natural history.

In his 1877 valedictory speech to his classmates at Minneapolis High School, Thomas Sadler Roberts urged people to pay attention to the "endless beauty and richness" of nature which "brings more contentedness and satisfaction than relentless pursuit of wealth." He believed that "for beauty through and through, we must turn to works of nature."

For information about YNS, see:

Volunteers Make Major Progress on Invasive Species Removal

"With dedication and sustained effort, we can rid Roberts Bird Sanctuary of invasive species."  ~ Brian Crotteau

Thanks to dedicated volunteers, efforts to remove buckthorn and other invasive species in and around Roberts Bird Sanctuary took another quantum leap in 2016. Volunteers helped at multiple garlic mustard and buckthorn pulls at the Sanctuary and William Berry Woods, clearing large areas at both sites.

Special thanks to Brian Crotteau, who worked throughout the year to remove buckthorn and other invasive and aggressive species, including garlic mustard, motherwort, and burdock. Brian has been testing and perfecting new methods to expedite the process of removing large stands of buckthorn trees. Visitors to the Sanctuary might notice a large area of stumps in the northwest corner of the Sanctuary (north of Bossen Lane near the west entrance). Brian is pictured above in this "buckthorn graveyard"--an area where pernicious buckthorn was almost impenetrable. After cutting off and hauling away the tops of the buckthorn trees, he returns later to expose and sever the main roots to prevent sprouting, then removes the remaining trunk. This method allows him to remove more buckthorn faster than with conventional pulling methods. In 2016, he cleared several large stands of buckthorn this way, including the southeast corner of the Sanctuary along Lake Harriet Parkway (pictured below) and other areas in and around the Sanctuary. 

Want to learn and have fun? Volunteer!

Volunteering is a great way to learn about birds, plants, and everything else at Roberts Bird Sanctuary, while helping to protect and enhance habitat for birds and other wildlife. Friends of Roberts provides training, tools and supervision for various ways to volunteer:

Removing invasive species. Garlic mustard and buckthorn pulls will be scheduled in the Sanctuary and also in William Berry Woods (another remnant native plant community which is near Roberts and also part of the Chain of Lakes Important Bird Area). In addition to scheduled group pulls, individuals can help monitor and remove invasive species (such as thistle, clover, motherwort and burdock) as needed during various seasons.

Planting native species. Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to plant native shrubs and wildflowers in various areas that have been cleared of buckthorn and garlic mustard. Friends of Roberts recently seeded a large woodland area on the west side with a shady woodland mix, and has identified other small areas for planting this year. 

Monitoring specific areas. A great way to spend quality time in the woods, either by yourself or with family or friends, is to be a Sanctuary Steward. After training from Friends of Roberts, these volunteers monitor small areas in or around the Sanctuary to identify and remove invasive plants, while nurturing new plantings of native species, for a designated length of time. 

For information about events and volunteer activities, please check our Facebook page or the FRBS website or send an email to

New Signs at Sanctuary Entrances

In late November the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board installed new signs at both entrances to Roberts, to help inform visitors and provide basic guidance for protecting and enjoying the Sanctuary. By staying on trails, avoiding loud noise, and not bringing dogs or bikes inside, visitors can help protect birds and wildlife who rely on the Sanctuary, at the same time enhancing the experience for birders and walkers in this natural area.

Capital Improvements Coming in 2017

As reported in earlier issues of the FRBS newsletter, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) has allocated about $345,000 for for the Roberts Capital Improvements Project. The goal of the project is to support avian habitat while providing education and low-impact access to park users. Key priorities include repairing the fence and improving access. MPRB is currently completing its "preferred design concept" in preparation for public comment on proposed capital improvements to occur in 2017.

For information about capital improvements in the Sanctuary, contact MPRB Project Manager Tyler Pederson at 612.499.9084 or

We are always in need of volunteers, whether you're young or old we need all sorts of different people with different abilities. Please visit our website to fill out the volunteer form and let us know what your interests are. Have questions or concerns? Just email us. 

Copyright © 2017 Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary. All rights reserved.

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Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary · P.O. Box 3801 · Minneapolis, MN 55403 · USA

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