Spring migrations make Missouri a paradise for birders

With spring approaching, birders in and around Columbia can expect to see many bird species flocking into the area.

Birds will be migrating from their southerly wintering grounds as the winter weather begins to leave the mid-Missouri region. In the coming weeks, birders who keep an eye on the sky can expect to see songbirds and waterfowl coming into the region and taking up residence. According to John Faaborg, MU professor of biological sciences, some of these birds will journey more than 3,000 miles from Central and South America to temporarily stop in Missouri before they continue migrating north.

“Kingbirds, sandpipers, and Swainson’s hawks are all species that winter in Central or South America,” Faaborg said.  “Missouri is right in the middle of their migratory path, so we get a nice mix of species.”

From backyard feeders to some of the region’s state parks, there is never a shortage of birds to observe.  Due to Missouri’s location right in the center of many species’ flyways, or paths of migration, birders can see anything from small sparrows and hummingbirds to large pelicans and waterfowl. There are many popular local sites that tend to have a higher concentration of birds, including Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area south of Columbia.

“Eagle Bluffs is a great place in particular to see waterfowl, but you can go anywhere to see birds. You can go to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park or the Audubon Society-owned property in town called the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary, which is connected to the city-owned Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary,” said Bill Mees, president of the Columbia Audubon Society.

When birds migrate they tend to stop in locations where resources, such as water, are readily available. This plays a large role in determining how long birds spend in a location before they continue their migration. Eagle Bluffs is not a full wetland year-round, so water is pumped in to create an inviting habitat for migrating birds, such as the American white pelican.

“They will stop where it is convenient, someplace that offers them sanctuary and where they will be safe,” Mees said.

In addition to birds migrating through the region, there are many species that are year-round residents. Species such as the northern cardinal, the tufted titmouse and the eastern bluebird can be observed all year in mid-Missouri.  They make their presence known with their songs, which can be heard more frequently as birds become active in the warmer temperatures. Along with songbirds, many waterfowl are also consistent residents in the region.

“It’s not unusual to see wood ducks or mallards here year-round, but a lot of ducks will go further north into Minnesota or the Dakotas,” Mees said.

Because Columbia sits in the transition zone between the forested Ozarks and the agricultural north, Columbia birders have an amazing opportunity to see a wide array of bird species. Sometimes residents don’t even have to venture out to spot birds, all they need to do is peak through their window into their own backyard.

Sean McNealy

About the Author Sean McNealy

I’m Sean McNealy, a sophomore at MU from Rockford, Ill., and I am new to the science and agricultural journalism program. I came into Mizzou as a fisheries and wildlife sciences major, but decided during my sophomore year to also pursue a degree in science and agricultural journalism. Proximity to both large metropolises, such as Chicago and Milwaukee, and unique state parks, really fostered my love for the city and for the outdoors. This led to my desire to pursue a degree I could apply to both rural and urban settings. I found science and agricultural journalism and thought it would be a great way spread the message of conservation, something that is very important to me. I currently don’t have a set career or profession I would like to go into, but as long as I’m happy doing what I love, I’m open to anything.