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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

No ice? What does this mean for wildlife?

Winter 2024 is on track to be the warmest winter on record for much of Minnesota, and with unprecedented warmth comes anomalies to the environment around us, one of which can be seen with ice. One of the ways that ice levels are tracked throughout the year is through the ice-out date, which refers to the first day when lakes become ice free. These ice-out days signal that temperatures are warming and spring is approaching, and ice-out dates are commonly used by scientists as a measure of a changing climate.

According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources data, the median ice out date for the area around Northfield occurs in early April and typically varies from mid March to late April. However, 2024 has been a very strange year. With an unusually warm winter in late January and through mid February, Lyman Lakes and the Cannon River completely thawed by the beginning of February. This is significant because it can cause anomalies in wildlife behavior, several of which have been noted in the past month.

Waterfowl behavior has notably changed, especially with geese and ducks which need open water to stay on campus in the winter. The Lyman Lakes have been teeming with common Canada geese and mallards, which have been gliding on the lakes in large flocks lately. Other rare occurrences have been seen along the Cannon River. Common mergansers, an early spring migratory duck, were spotted in early February this year along the Cannon River. These striking ducks can often be spotted in small groups of up to three birds, but do not usually appear on campus until March when the water begins to thaw. Find out more information about when birds typically are on campus on Cowling Arboretum’s Birds page

Aquatic mammals are also out in mass this February, with both muskrats and American mink spotted swimming along the Cannon River these past few weeks. The Lower Arb’s trail next to West Gym provides great views along the Cannon where you may be able to spot aquatic animals yourself.  

As temperatures look to remain warm and our short Valentine’s Day freeze may come to an end, keep an eye out — with these warm temperatures wildlife may be more active than usual, especially around Carleton’s bodies of water.

Muskrat – Joanne Bouknight


Geoffrey Bynum ‘25, for the Cole Student Naturalists

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