My 12 Best Bird Watching Spots in Missouri You Should Try

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Missouri is a land-locked state found in the midwestern region of the United States. At least 390 species of birds have been noted in this state. Knowing the best bird watching spots is not always easy, so I have written this blog describing my choices for the best places to bird watch in Missouri.

The best bird watching spots in Missouri are those with diverse habitats, such as at Schell-Osage and Eagles Bluff Conservation Areas. Wetlands at Swan Lake and Riverlands are also suitable for birds, and Roaring River State Park is the place to see the most warblers.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 12 birding spots in Missouri:

Swan Lake National Wildlife RefugeBald Eagle and Trumpeter Swan
Riverlands Migratory Bird SanctuaryLeast Tern and Short-eared Owl
Squaw Creek National Wildlife RefugeSnow Goose and Rough-legged Hawk
Eagle Bluffs Conservation AreaCaspian Tern and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Schell-Osage Conservation AreaNeotropic Cormorant and American White Pelican
August A. Busch Memorial Conservation AreaPileated Woodpecker and Bufflehead
Taberville Prairie Conservation AreaGreater Prairie-Chicken and Henslow’s Sparrow
Clarence Cannon National Wildlife RefugeKing Rail and Sandhill Crane
Roaring River State ParkCerulean Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler
Mingo National Wildlife RefugeWood Duck and Anhinga
Marais Temps Clair Conservation AreaGreat Blue Heron and Swamp Sparrow
Columbia Bottom Conservation AreaNorthern Shrike and Fulvous Whistling Duck
Best Places to Bird Watch in Missouri

Read on to find the best spots for bird watching in Missouri. I also list and discuss the species of birds you can likely see in each place.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Missouri
Best Bird Watching Spots in Missouri

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Missouri

Missouri is a midwestern state on the Mississippi flyway of bird migration. There is a range of habitats where you can see various birds.

1. Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge

The bird species list for this refuge is at least 260 species, making this an excellent choice for bird watchers. Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is situated in the state’s northwestern region. This refuge is 10,795 acres and is an important bird area in Missouri.

There are wetlands and grasslands in this refuge. The area also has a car drive you can take and an observation tower. The drive is not always open, so it is best to contact the refuge to find out what months you can access this so you can plan your trip correctly.

The birds you can find in the refuge include Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Mallards, and American White Pelicans. Bald Eagles also breed in the refuge, and you can expect to find various passerine species in the grassy areas. 

2. Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary 

This is a 3,700-acre refuge on the western side of the Mississippi River and is an important route for migrating birds taking the Mississippi Flyway. You can walk at least 8 miles of trails to find birds, but these are not open from October to mid-April.

Birds to watch out for in the sanctuary include the following species: Least Terns, Bald Eagles, and American White Pelicans. Trumpeter Swans are also often present. The Least Terns breed in the preserve.

You can find Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks, Dickcissels, and Grasshopper Sparrows in the grassy areas here. If you visit in winter, you may also see Short-eared Owls.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

3. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

This 7,440-acre refuge is comprised of wetlands, grasslands, and riparian plants. There is a driving route you can take to view waterfowl, and there are many viewing platforms in the refuge.

This refuge attracts thousands of Snow Geese and hundreds of Bald Eagles. The geese are seen in fall and spring, while the eagles appear in winter. 

Other goose species found in the refuge include Ross’s Goose, Canada Goose, and Greater White-fronted Goose. Rough-legged Hawks and Short-eared Owls have also been recorded in the area. 

4. Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is a 4428.6-acre preserve a few miles west of Columbia. The area has wetlands, grasslands, and riparian vegetation. These habitats attract many species of birds. Two hundred eighty-four bird species can be located in this area.

You can find the following bird species in the refuge:  Sandhill Crane, Osprey, Bald Eagle, American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, and Least Bittern.

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos are summer migrants that breed in reserve. You should also look out for Black Terns, Forster’s Terns, and Caspian Terns. You can find Grasshopper Sparrows, Lark Sparrows, and Dickcissels in the grassy patches.

5. Schell-Osage Conservation Area

This area is 8,600 acres in size and is a good site for bird watchers because of the immense diversity of habitats. There are wetlands, grasslands, hardwood forests, upland forests, prairie, and agricultural croplands.

You can find many species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines. Bird species to look out for include the Canada Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, American White Pelican, and Neotropic Cormorant. 

Fish Crows and Yellow-crowned Night Herons nest in the preserve. You can also see species like the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Bell’s Vireo. Near the water, look for Prothonotary Warblers in the vegetation.

6. August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area

This is a 6,987-acre conservation area that is recommended for bird watching. The habitats here include wetlands, forests, grasslands, and fields.

Based on the species checklist, at least 281 bird species are recorded here. You can find waterfowl species, such as Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and more, in the water here.

Look near the water for Tricolored and Great Blue Herons. Shorebirds like Piping Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers are also found in the area.

Various woodpeckers are found in the trees, including the Pileated Woodpecker, which enjoys the forest habitat here. Great-crested Flycatchers and Eastern and Western Kingbirds occur in the preserve.

7. Taberville Prairie Conservation Area

This area is 1,300 acres in size and is north of El Dorado Springs. This large area of tall grass prairie provides suitable habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Species recorded in the area include Grasshopper Sparrow, Bell’s Vireo, Sedge Wren, Henslow’s Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Northern Bobwhite.

The Greater Prairie-Chicken is also found in Taberville Prairie; spring is the best time to see and hear this bird species. You can also find these species: Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Dickcissel, and Eastern Meadowlark. 

Taberville Prairie Conservation Area is important for ornithological researchers who conduct nest monitoring here.

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

8. Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is north of St. Louis and is a waterfowl conservation area. However, you can see other types of birds here besides waterfowl. Geese and ducks can reach thousands of individuals in October and November. 

The refuge is on the Mississippi River, and you can see most of the waterfowl by driving on the roads that go through the preserve.

A range of shorebirds can be found in the refuge. You can find species like the Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Plover, and Solitary Sandpiper.

Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles in the refuge, and other species such as the American Bittern, American Kestrel, Prothonotary Warbler, and King Rail. King Rail is a species that breeds in the refuge.

9. Roaring River State Park

This park is in the Ozarks region and has a natural spring present. Many birds of the woodlands occur here. It is recommended that birders take the trails along the river and hillside area to look for birds.

You can see a large number of warblers at Roaring River State Park. Species you can look out for in the park include Worm-eating Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, and Pine Warbler.

You should be aware that different warblers occur to varying heights in vegetation, and some may appear on the ground.

It is a good idea to check all woodland levels to ensure you don’t miss any. You may also find Wood Thrushes in the heavily shaded areas of woods. 

As far as raptors go, you will likely see Broad-winged Hawks in the area. Check the trees for tanagers, as both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers are seen in the park and Pileated Woodpeckers.

10. Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is enormous at 22,000 acres in size. There are several acres of bottomland hardwood forests present in the refuge. There are also swamps of tupelo and cypress trees and lowland oak-hickory forests.

A trail called the Swampwalk Nature Trail is recommended for bird watchers. Birds to look out for include the following species: Anhinga, Mississippi Kite, Wood Duck, Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, and Fish Crow.

An auto tour (open from March through November) also passes through the refuge, including agricultural fields and wetlands.

Here, it would be best to watch out for species like Blue-winged Teal and Gadwall in the water. There may also be shorebirds and bird species that like grassland habitats. There are observation decks that you can also use around the refuge.

TOP TIP: Wild birds are very different to domestic birds and should not be kept as pets. Some wild birds are very friendly and will often approach people for food. Find out which wild birds are the friendliest in this article. Birds are great pollinators and can spread the seeds of different fruits. Find out all about their gardening skills here!

11. Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area

This is a 918-acre region that consists of an oxbow of the Missouri River. The area is suitable for birds, and species you can expect to find here include herons such as the Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, and Black-crowned Night Heron.

In the conservation area, you can also see an assortment of marsh species like King Rail and passerines like the Yellow-headed Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Shorebirds seen here in the past include Greater Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plover. There is a complete checklist of the species seen in the area that you can use for your trip. 

12. Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

This is a 4300-acre area in the St. Louis area. It has many habitats for birds, including prairie, riparian vegetation, brush, open fields, cultivated lands, and two rivers that join together here. This is a birding hotspot since 285 bird species have been recorded in this area.

Some uncommon to rare birds recorded here include the Fulvous Whistling-Duck, White-tailed Kite, White Ibis, and Tricolored Heron.

Other bird species to watch for include raptors like the Golden Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, and Prairie Falcon. Rare passerines noticed in the area include the Chestnut-collared Longspur and Northern Shrike. 

Best Time to Bird Watch in Missouri

Different seasons can mean different types and numbers of species; however, you will still see birds in the birding spots I have discussed above, regardless of when you visit.

Snow GeeseSpring and fall
Bald EaglesWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Missouri

The Missouri State Bird

Eastern Bluebird - The State Bird of Missouri
Eastern Bluebird – The State Bird of Missouri

The Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, is the state bird of Missouri. These little birds are easy to recognize and identify. They have blue heads, backs, wings, tails, and rusty underparts. The male has brighter coloration than the female.

The bluebird often sits out in the open and nests in natural holes in trees or nest boxes designed for them. They are insect-eaters commonly found in various habitats such as in gardens, open areas of bushveld, and fields.

Bird Watching Laws in Missouri

Missouri has specific laws regarding hunting game birds and possessing falcons. You are not permitted to hunt or keep falcons or other birds of prey without the correct permit.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Missouri is an excellent choice for bird watching because it has diverse habitats that attract a variety of bird species.

Some habitats are similar to those found in the southern states, namely, tupelo and bald cypress swamps. These attract even more species. Missouri is definitely a state you should add to your list when planning where to go for a bird watching trip.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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