Bird diversity reflected in count at MDC's Four Rivers area

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Kansas City
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Nevada, Mo. – Birders tallied 109 separate species of birds on Dec. 18 during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Four Rivers Conservation Area in Vernon and Bates counties. The tally didn’t top the record for a Christmas Bird Count in Missouri, which was set last year at Four Rivers with 114 species. But it’s still an impressive number of species that reflects in part a wide variety of habitats at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) area and at some other nearby public prairies and wildlife areas.

The National Audubon Society conducts Christmas Bird Counts annually between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 nationally in a tradition that dates to 1900. Data gathered helps scientists monitor winter bird populations and long-term species trends. MDC staff partners with Audubon members, conservation professionals, and volunteers, for the annual count at Four Rivers and at other locations throughout Missouri. The counts are set within 15-mile wide diameter circles. At Four Rivers, people participating in the count traverse the area’s wetlands, bottomland forest, agriculture land, restored grassland, and two small remnant native prairies.

Four Rivers provides an impressive number of species for a Christmas Bird Count in Missouri, said Mark Robbins, one of the count organizers and ornithology collections manager at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute. Robbins and David Easterla also co-authored a book, Birds of Missouri: Their Distribution and Abundance, published in 1992.

The wide variety of habitats at Four Rivers helps attract a wide number of species, Robbins said. Plus the count attracts some very good birding experts who are adept at identifying species by sight and sound. But some species found in the count are related to mild temperatures in autumn and early winter. Birds that normally would have migrated south are lingering and being tallied unusually high numbers in the count, such as greater yellowlegs, least sandpiper, and eastern phoebe.

“You wouldn’t have seen these totals in Missouri 20 years ago or even 15 years ago,” Robbins said. “Climate change is definitely influencing this.”

Unusual birds sighted on the count included an orange-crowned warbler and a white-winged dove. Participants counted 639 red-headed woodpeckers, which were feeding on a strong mast crop of acorns and pecans on the bottomland forest. Topping the count by numbers were almost 27,000 mallard ducks, reflecting the focus on wetlands at the August A. Busch Memorial Wetlands at Four Rivers Conservation Area.

For a complete list of birds noted during the Four Rivers count, visit

For information about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, visit

Missouri is a great place to see birds and winter is a good time to spot them. For information about wild birds in Missouri, and public conservation areas, visit