The Odyssey Birds

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

Pacific coast and through the interior, including Missouri.

Due to the drier climate, mudflat conditions are often better to the west, so shorebirds are more common in western Missouri than along the Mississippi River.

Water levels at waterfowl areas that are also managed for shorebirds should be kept low from April through August, and then raised before waterfowl hunting commences in September. Since Missouri's peak shorebird migrations are in May and August, this management regimen seems beneficial for most migrating shorebirds.

Shorebirds are a closely-related group of birds, some of which are not necessarily associated with shorelines. Killdeer, woodcock and upland sandpipers, for example, can be found in such diverse habitats as lawns, forests and prairies. Those, plus spotted sandpipers and black-necked stilts, actually nest here. Best known among these is the brightly colored killdeer that deposits four camouflaged eggs on bare ground, either in pastures or on roadside gravel. This bird has a theatrical flair. Whenever it perceives its eggs are in peril, the killdeer parent decoys away all territorial intruders, human or otherwise, with a broken-wing act that can fool even the most astute bird watcher. Parent killdeer persist in feigning injury even after hatching time when their wide-eyed, downy chicks have scattered for cover. Such behavior is typical of many shorebirds.

The American woodcock, or timberdoodle, is another Missouri favorite This Show-Me State nester spends its nights probing with a flexible, tweezer-like bill into wet woodland soil for earthworms. In early spring, just before sunrise and again at dusk, the woodcock conducts his signature courting ritual. On a grassy knoll away from the woods, he struts and emits what is often described as a nasal peent. He spirals up several hundred feet with barely audible twitters, circles down with a liquid warble and then returns to the same grassy spot for repeated rounds of strutting and vocalized aerobatics. A single performance takes about a minute.

Missouri's remaining three nesting shorebirds are the spotted sandpiper, the upland sandpiper and the black-necked stilt. Spotted sandpipers are best recognized by their habit of teetering, or nervously bobbing their tails, as they feed along the shorelines of our summer streams. Upland sandpipers are best suited to nesting on tallgrass prairies where they occasionally can be spotted perched with lifted wings atop fence posts. Black-necked stilts are relative newcomers to the state. The first discovered Missouri nesting of this long-legged bird was in Stoddard County in 1986, in a region of rice paddies. It has nested there in small numbers ever since.

  • Looking for Shorebirds

  • For good shorebirding in Missouri - especially of odyssey types - wetland refuges are promising whenever mudflats are present. Good destinations include:
  • Ted Shanks Conservation Area, north of Louisiana
  • Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area, northeast of St. Charles
  • Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, southwest of Columbia
  • Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area, south of East Prairie
  • Otter Slough Conservation Area, southwest of Dexter
  • Schell-Osage Conservation Area, north of Eldorado Springs
  • Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, north of St. Joseph
  • Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, west of Brookfield
  • The Corps of Engineer's Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area, north of St. Louis
  • Other conservation lands that may attract shorebirds include the Aldrich Arm of Stockton Lake, and the upper parts of Truman Lake and Thomas Hill Lakes.

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