Conservation Minnesota

Phenology – Why your everyday observations are important

Some days it may be hard to believe, but spring is finally here and with spring comes new beginnings in nature. Migratory birds are returning, plants are starting to bud, and the ice is finally off the lakes. It’s a great feeling to know that we are finally out of the harsh Minnesota winter but do you ever wonder if those first signs of spring could mean anything on a wider scale?

Meet Phenology: a segment of ecology that studies the timing of seasonal changes in plants and animals.

Phenology looks at the first occurrence of biological events in their annual cycles. In plants this means recording the first time you see budding, flowering, seeding, and senescence. In animals, these observations can include the first appearance of migratory birds, first mating calls or courtship dances, nesting, offspring sighting, and plant visitation. This data is increasingly being recognized by researchers and scientists as key to understanding the patterns and nature of climate change. These natural event are recorded every year and over time trends begin to emerge.

Why are seasonal trends important? Because everything in nature is interconnected. For example: birds tend to time their nesting so that their offspring will hatch when there are insects for feeding; insects emerge when their host plants start leafing out. If one of these events is out of tune with the others, then the whole cycle gets thrown off.

Phenology is very important to understanding the world around us. Unfortunately, there is a constant need for more observers. If you are interested in participating in phenology, the Minnesota Phenology Network is always looking for new observers to share their data and observations. They list the top seven species in Minnesota for monitoring as:

-Red Maple



-Eastern Bluebird

-Monarch Butterfly

-Common Loon

-Ruby Throated Hummingbird

These seven were picked because they are common, easy to monitor and have some type of economical, ecological or cultural significance in Minnesota.  Please go to to sign up as a participant.

About Whitney Thesing

Whitney Thesing

Whitney Thesing graduated in 2009 from the University of Minnesota – Morris with degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies.  After graduating, she has worked in many areas of natural resources including water quality, invasive species management, ecological experiments, phenology, and native ecosystem restoration. She volunteers her time as a member of St. Louis Park’s Environment and Sustainability Commission, focusing on education and behavior change, and water resources, two causes near to her heart.

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