Large area of forests and grasslands west of St. Louis is great for warblers, tanagers, ducks, hawks, and many more birds.
By Charlene Oldham | Published: 2/13/2015
Though primarily known as a hunting and fishing spot, the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area offers plenty of year-round birding opportunities for those who aren’t interesting in taking a few home at the end of the day.
My favorite season is fall, when Cooper’s Hawks float kite-like in clear skies, Ring-billed Gulls compete with human anglers, and ducks gather in ponds and wetlands. Many of the best habitats are accessible by well-maintained gravel roads or short hiking trails made easily navigable by signs installed by local Boy Scout troops. A few feeders are within viewing distance of picnic areas, so you can watch hungry birds while you eat.
In early spring, watch and listen for displaying woodcocks. Later in spring and in summer, the many attractions include warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, cuckoos, and buntings. Several warblers remain all summer, including Prothonotary, Yellow, Northern Parula, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Visit in the evening to have a chance to hear Eastern Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will’s-widow, and Common Nighthawk. The visitor center offers educational programs, including night hikes that sometimes feature calling Barred or Great Horned Owls. — Charlene Oldham
Charlene Oldham is a teacher and journalist. She also wrote about Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton, Illinois, Hotspot Near You No. 189.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Forests, grasslands, croplands, fields, prairies, wetlands, and 28 lakes and ponds.
Six trails less than a mile long as well as the 3.2-mile Busch Hiking and Biking Trail. Several trails are easy and offer at least partial wheelchair access. Auto route tours excellent bird-viewing areas.
260 species. Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Mallard, Ring-necked and Wood Ducks, Bufflehead, mergansers, Northern Bobwhite, egrets, herons, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed Hawks, Sora, Great Horned and Barred Owls, Wilson’s Snipe, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-bellied, Red-headed, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse, Cedar Waxwing, kinglets, Wood Thrush, 35 warblers, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Bunting, Eurasian Tree Sparrow (uncommon). Rarities: Harris’s Sparrow, Red Crossbill.
When to go
Visitor center offers restrooms, a small gift shop, exhibits, and nature programs for all ages, including bird-ID sessions. More primitive restrooms throughout the property.
State conservation area. Admission free. Open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Visitor center open 8-5 Monday through Friday, except state holidays and Thanksgiving weekend.
Bring insect spray and water. Hunting is allowed; check website for current regulations and seasons.
For more info
Weldon Springs Conservation Area
South of Busch Conservation Area off Hwy. 94. More than 8,300 acres. 207 species, excellent in spring.
Howell Island Conservation Area
A 2,500-acre island in the Missouri River, accessible via a causeway off Eatherton Rd. Forests, grassy fields, and other habitats attract owls, hawks, herons, and songbirds.