This hotspot, on the Missouri River southwest of Columbia, hosts about 270 species, including shorebirds, sparrows, ducks, and pelicans.
By Eric Reuter | Published: 6/28/2016
A diverse expanse of bluff-lined floodplains along the Missouri River, Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is a favorite destination for my wife and me. The state acquired the conservation area in 1989 as part of a statewide wetland restoration and management program. Since then, dedicated land management by the Missouri Department of Conservation has created important habitats for birds and other wildlife.
In late winter and early spring, we slowly cruise the long gravel roads to enjoy the raucous migrant geese, while ducks patrol the marshes and dabble in pools. In spring, we track warblers in the tall riparian trees lining the hiking trails until our necks ache. In autumn, as oak leaves change color among the limestone bluffs, raptors and waterfowl pass back through or settle in for winter.
On the driving loops, we often see other birders and swap notes and tips, and the Columbia Audubon Society leads trips in the area. An observation deck atop the bluffs, accessible via Warren School Rd., offers sweeping views of the river valley, especially nice for watching American White Pelicans as they circle the marshes. Eagle Bluffs is one of Missouri’s premier birding sites and a feather in any birder’s cap. — Eric Reuter
Eric Reuter is a geologist, an organic farmer, a freelance writer, and the editor of the Columbia Audubon Society’s monthly newsletter.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands, including 17 managed pools, marshes, fields, savannahs, glades, forests, streams, and limestone bluffs.
Mostly flat, with levees along pools and natural features. Over five miles of hiking trails; many walkable non-vehicular levee roads.
Around 270 species. American White Pelican, Snow, Canada, and Greater White-fronted Geese, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Redhead, teal, grebes, herons, egrets, Northern Bobwhite, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, plovers, sandpipers, and many other shorebirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, American and Fish Crows, Prothonotary, Yellow, and other warblers, Lark, Swamp, Savannah, and 15 other sparrows, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, orioles. Rarities: Sandhill Crane and Yellow-headed Blackbird.
When to go
One pit toilet, no potable water. Seasonal restrooms at Katy Trail State Park parking lot, on Rt. K. Area map on website.
State conservation area. No fees. Some areas closed during fall/winter hunting seasons. More than 20 parking lots and two viewing blinds. Katy Trail State Park (rail trail for cycling and walking) passes through area.
If visiting in fall, call (573) 446-6743 to check hunting-season restrictions. Consult area map to navigate the sometimes-confusing roads and to find out-of-the-way pools. Be prepared for winds that often funnel down river valley; weather can be colder than a forecast implies.
For more info
20 miles south of Eagle Bluffs, on west side of Jefferson City. More than 225 species. Great for waterfowl in winter.
Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area
16 miles east of Columbia on Hwy. J. Kentucky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Henslow’s Sparrow.