Into The Wild: River Bluff

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From Xplor: May/June 2017

Steep, rocky river bluffs are a harsh place to call home. But many plants and animals do. So next time you’re canoeing a stream or bicycling the Katy Trail, don’t forget to look up.

Take a Closer Look

Cliff swallows stick globs of mud to the sides of bluffs to build their volcano-shaped nests. Some bluffs have hundreds of nests packed together in one spot. If you look at the nests through binoculars, you might see a swallow peeking out.


Cliff crannies are often used as bat bedrooms. The winged mammals tuck themselves safely into cracks and sleep away the day. If you’re near a bluff at sunset, you may be treated to a swarm of bats fluttering off to nab insects.

What Happened Here?

This messy pile of sticks is an eastern woodrat’s nest. Woodrats, also known as pack rats, pick up shiny objects and stash them away in their nests. If they find something better than what they’re already carrying, they trade it. Because of this, campers sometimes find sticks where their car keys used to be.

Did You Know

Missouri’s oldest living trees are eastern red cedars growing atop bluffs in remote corners of the state. Some of the cedars are nearly 900 years old, which means they started growing more than 600 years before the United States became a country.


Eastern phoebes build their nests under overhangs on buildings, bridges, and cliffs. It’s easy to know when a phoebe is nearby, because the bird says its name. Listen for a raspy fee-bee!


Run your hand over a crusty lichen and you’ll actually be touching two kinds of living things at once. Lichens are made of fungi and algae living closely together. The algae provide food to the fungi. In return, the fungi protect the algae and deliver moisture and nutrients.

Heads Up!

Wind, rain, and ice can cause parts of a bluff to break off and crash to the ground.


Columbine blooms along bluffs and shady, rocky hillsides from April to July. The flashy red flowers provide a welcome meal of nectar to migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Also In This Issue

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This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White