Top Places To Birdwatch in Missouri – Free & Paid Birding Destinations

December 17, 2021 // 20 minute read

Birding Locations » US » Birding In Missouri

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Missouri birders definitely enjoy living in this wonderful place because it’s a great location to enjoy bird watching all around the state. The experts even considered an ornithological crossroads. It’s considered a transition point from the environments in the south and east to a Midwest environment, which means birdwatchers will discover a wide range of breeding birds in this beautiful location including the Northern Harrier, Greater Roadrunner, and other beautiful birds.

Missouri has many protected areas and diverse habitats as well containing tall tallgrass prairie in the west, and on the Ozark Plateau there is a pine oak hickory forest as well as wetlands that are rich with waterfowl scattered throughout the state.

For those living in Missouri or anyone who intends to visit sometime soon, you should make the most of the amazing bird watching locations spread out throughout the state. I am going to share the top free places to visit to go birdwatching, as well as one or two paid tours or bird watching locations that you might want to check out in The Show-Me State.

And, if you are visiting any of Missouri’s neighboring states, be sure to check out our guides: Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.

Do you want to get to know other birdwatching enthusiasts? I’m also going to tell you about the top Missouri-based chapters of the National Audubon Society and maybe a birdwatching club or two as well. These organizations tend to focus on environmentalism, conservation, birdwatching trips, and walks, habitat preservation, and birding education as well. So, if you’d like to connect with bird lovers just like you, I highly recommend joining a local chapter if you’re interested.

Bird Watching Destinations in Missouri: Free Destinations

Are you on the hunt for an inexpensive bird-watching experience in Missouri? If so, I certainly have something interesting to share with you right now because I want you to learn about the best free destinations for birdwatching in this state. Remember to bring along your binoculars, put a full tank of gas in your car, and be ready to pay for parking on occasion after you learn about my favorite recommendations.

The next time you’re in the Show-Me state, please remember to visit these amazing birdwatching hotspots because they are all free and they are great Missouri destinations to travel to.

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge – Free Admission To The Park

This attractive destination is one of the best places to visit if you plan to go birdwatching during peak waterfowl migration. In the early spring and fall months, you’ll have the opportunity to see Snow geese by the hundreds of thousands as they settle on top of the water during these stunning times a year.

Birdwatchers will also have a chance to see a wide array of other waterfowl and different types of birds at this wonderful destination. And the best part is that you can visit all year-round to see different types of birds in their natural habitat.

Location:

Physical Address:
25542 US-159
Forest City, MO 64451
Phone: 660-442-3187

Mailing Address:
Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge
PO Box 158
Mound City, Missouri 64470

GPS: 40.0828° N, 95.2526° W

Hours Of Operation:

The national wildlife refuge opens every day and a half hour before sunrise and it closes every day and a half hour after sunset. There is no charge to enter into the refuge.

  • Canada Goose
  • Lapland Longspur
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Greater White-Fronted Goose
  • Northern Harrier
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • American White Pelican
  • Sedge Wren
  • Least Bittern
  • Wild Turkey
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Common Gallinule

Hiking Trails:

Throughout the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, visitors will be happy to know that there are four excellent hiking trails that I get to tell you about located in Forest city, Missouri. These trails are absolutely worth your while because there are many gorgeous birds along the path. And if you like hiking, you’ll definitely appreciate this wonderful experience.

The hiking trail names and other pertinent info include:

  • Bob Brown Conservation Loop – this hiking trail is certainly not the easiest one because it is labeled as a trail that is moderately difficult. The trail itself is noticeable but it isn’t the clearest trail in the world, so there will be some minor obstacles in your path as you hike along the water. The total length of the trail is 8.9 miles, which the average person can complete in three hours and 40 minutes from beginning to end.
  • Squaw Creek Loop – this trail is similar to the previous one but it’s a lot shorter, although it is definitely moderately difficult. And the area can get very snowy during the winters, so the hiking might be a little more complicated but it’s also a great time of the year to see winter birds in their natural habitat. The total length of the trail is 2.1 miles, which the average person walking at a moderate pace can complete in one hour and 10 minutes from start to finish.
  • Riverbreaks Conservation Area Trail – the great thing about this trail is that it’s considered a walking path with easy difficulty, so just about anybody can walk along the trail even if you do not have a lot of experience walking or hiking for longer distances. And speaking of distance, this trail isn’t very long at all because it’s only 1.4 miles from the beginning of the trail and all the way to the finish line. It shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes to complete the entire thing from one end to the other.
  • Loess Bluffs Trail – this is actually the easiest trail of all since it isn’t very difficult to walk along and it’s relatively short as well. The trail itself is only 1 mile long, which the average person can finish in about a half an hour to 35 minutes if they are walking at a relatively moderate pace.

Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge – Free Admittance

The wonderful thing about Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is that it’s located in the heart of North-central Missouri and it’s a phenomenal place with wetlands that are perfect for shorebirds and waterfowl that are looking to feed and get some rest during the migratory season. These birds migrate for long distances, but they tend to stop in these wetlands throughout the year for rest and relaxation before they move on to the next location.

This is a great NWR to visit if you want to potentially see around 260 different bird species of many types including ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds.

Location:

16194 Swan Lake Ave.
Sumner, MO 64681
Phone: 660-856-3323
Fax: 660-856-3687

GPS: 39.6191° N, 93.1679° W

Hours Of Operation:

Swan Lake NWR is open seven days a week. It opens a half an hour before dawn and closes a half an hour after dusk.

The visitor center has different and very specific hours. They include the following:

Visitor Center Hours

  • Opens Monday-Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM – November 1-February 28
  • Opens Monday-Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM – March 1-October 26
  • Opens Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM – March 1-October 26
  • Opens Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM – March 1-October 26
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • American White Pelican
  • Dickcissel
  • American Goldfinch
  • Red-Winged Blackbird
  • White-Throated Sparrow
  • Northern Flicker
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Downy Woodpecker

Hiking Trails:

Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of hiking to experience if you intend to visit Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the near future. As a matter of fact, there is only one trail that I have the opportunity to tell you about right now. And it isn’t the longest trail in the world either, so it’s a good one for novices and people that do not hike a lot, but probably not the best option for avid hikers who love hitting the trails from miles at a time.

The name of the trail and other details include:

  • Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge Trail – as I said, this trail is definitely short and sweet and relatively simple to walk along because it has a very easy difficulty rating level. As a matter of fact, this trail is less than half a mile long coming in at 0.4 miles in total distance. The average hiker can quickly finish this mild trail in roughly 10-15 minutes or less, depending on how quickly you decide to walk along the path. Remember to stop and smell the roses and look around to enjoy an avid bird watching experience as well. You’ll be glad that you did.

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area – Free Bird Watching, Paid Hunting And Fishing: Permits Required

This stunning conservation area is located in Boone County, but it’s also near McBain toward the southwest portion of Columbia. The area is covered by 17 wetland pools, which delivers around 1100 acres of marshland, crop fields, and emergent marshes. This makes the perfect habitat for birds during the winter and birds that are migrating and need a place to rest along their journey.

This area also provides wonderful opportunities for hunting, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing. Remember to visit with family and friends for a fun filled day in nature.

Location:

6700 W. Route K
Columbia, MO 65203
Phone: 573-445-3882

GPS: 38.8527° N, 92.4357° W

Hours Of Operation:

Although this location isn’t technically open 24/7, the current hours of operation still give you plenty of time to enjoy this gorgeous place. It’s open seven days a week from 4 AM to 10 PM each day and it’s even open on holidays as well.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Forster’s Tern
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Bald Eagle
  • American White Pelican
  • Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
  • Fish Crow
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Virginia Rail
  • Caspian Tern
  • Bell’s Vireo
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker

Hiking Trails:

Like the previous birding area mentioned above, the Eagle Bluffs area of Missouri only has one prominent hiking trail that I can tell you about today. Thankfully it’s a kid friendly trail that allows hiking, mountain biking, birdwatching, walking dogs as long as they remain on a leash, and it’s even a great place for nature trips. Spend time in the wild by walking or running through the forest, right along the river, and see some beautiful views in the process.

The name of this hiking trail and other valuable information include:

  • Eagle Bluffs Overlook Trail – right away, I immediately noticed that this is a moderately difficult trail, because the terrain is definitely on the muddy side because you are technically walking through marshland, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone. But it’s a nice place to walk through nonetheless and it isn’t the longest trail in the world since it’s only 2.1 miles. The average hiker or regular person who enjoys walking should easily finish this trail in one hour and five minutes without too much difficulty.

Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – Free Bird Watching

One of the exciting things about the river lands area is that it’s made up of 8.5 miles of trails, which provides the perfect opportunity for birdwatchers and hikers looking to spend time in nature. There are also bird blinds and viewing platforms available for any and all birdwatchers looking to view their favorite avian creatures in the wild.

Walking along these trails will bring you through marshes, prairies, and bottomland forest habitats. These areas provide excellent opportunities for viewing a wide variety of birds as well as other attractive wildlife as well.

Location:

301 Riverlands Way
West Alton, MO 63386
Phone: 636-899-0090

GPS: 38.8691° N, 90.1531° W

Hours Of Operation:

The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located within the Audubon Center at Riverlands. At the time of this writing, the regular hours of operation from Monday through Sunday are 8 AM to 4 PM. Holiday hours likely vary, so call the sanctuary ahead of time to find out if they are open. The number is 636-899-0090.

  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Tundra Swan
  • Lapland Longspur
  • Bobolink
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Horned Lark
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Harrier
  • Great Blue Heron

Hiking Trails:

Hikers and birdwatchers that appreciate spending time walking along hiking trails will definitely enjoy visiting the Audubon Center at Riverlands and the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. There isn’t an enormous number of trails in the area since there are only to recognize trails in existence, but they are easy trails that should be perfect for everyone looking to enjoy a fun filled morning or afternoon of birdwatching.

The names of the trails and other important info include:

  • Audubon Center Trail Loop – this trail is definitely the easiest of the two because it’s relatively short being only 0.7 miles long. It’s an attractive trail that takes you right along the water, so the views are definitely going to be exciting and you’ll see lots of birds along the way. The average person could probably finish this trail in 20 minutes, but I highly recommend slowing down, taking your time, and really taking in the sights and sounds as you walk along this beautiful path.
  • Ellis Island Trail – this wonderful trail is a lot longer than the previous one since its total length is 2.7 miles from beginning to end. You’ll walk along beautiful grasslands, a nice large section of the forest, and fields as well. This stunning location is one of my absolute favorites, and it typically takes around an hour and 10 minutes to complete. Again, do not hesitate to take your time and really soak up the experience. That’s the best way to enjoy birdwatching in this type of natural habitat.

Schell-Osage Conservation Area – Free Admission For Hiking And Birdwatching

This free birding hot spot can be found in west central Missouri, and it’s made up of 8600 acres of conservation area. It’s filled with productive habitats that make it the perfect place for birds and birders to spend time in and appreciate one another’s company. The area is filled with wetlands, ponds, cropland, fields, forests, tallgrass prairies, and much more. You’ll also discover a wide array of species including shorebirds, songbirds, and more than 270 bird species in total.

Location:

4662 2950 Road
Schell City, MO 64783
Phone: 417-432-3414

GPS: 38.0080° N, 94.0880° W

Hours Of Operation:

The current hours of operation of the Schell-Osage Conservation Area are as follows: the area is open seven days a week and it’s open from 4 AM until 10 PM each day.

  • Canada Goose
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Bald Eagle
  • Wild Turkey
  • Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Snow Goose
  • Fish Crow
  • Northern Harrier
  • Greater White-Fronted Goose

Hiking Trails:

The Schell Osage Conservation Area is a beautiful place to visit for birdwatching and other wildlife viewing. It has a boat Lane, camping area, and it even has a hiking trail for those who are looking to get a little exercise and view their favorite birds in the wilderness. Unfortunately, it’s just the one hiking trail that I can tell you about today. But it’s a good trail that you’ll appreciate nonetheless.

The name of the trail and much more are as follows:

  • Schell Osage Strader Ponds Hike – even though it’s considered an easy hiking trail, it’s actually a bit more on the overgrown side and there’s a lot of leaves, dirt, and wet ground to cover, so I’m going to disagree with the experts and say that this trail is moderately difficult at best. It’s not the longest trail in the world which is good because it makes it more accessible to average people that do not necessarily hike. It’s 2.3 miles long, which should take the average person around an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to complete.

Bird Watching Destinations in Missouri: Paid Destinations

River of life Farm

The River of Life Farm is a wonderful place to visit and a great destination if you’re looking to take a Missouri Ozarks vacation. There are so many wonderful things to do like hiking, hunting, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, birdwatching, and much more.

This is one of the hottest destinations in all of Missouri and it encompasses 500 acres of scenic Ozark perfection. And it’s a wonderful place to keep the entire family entertained. Or you can visit on your own to enjoy stargazing, birding, and other fun filled outdoor activities.

Contact Info:

River of Life Farm
1746 River of Life Drive
Dora, MO 65637
Phone: 417-261-7777
Email: [email protected]

For anyone interested in lodging at the River of Life Farm to enjoy a fun filled couples getaway or an exciting family vacation, please visit the rates page mentioned above. There are many different lodging suites and guest cabins available.

A few options include:

The Redbud Cabin

  • 6 Guests
  • 1 King Bed
  • Loft – 2 Queens
  • Whirlpool tub
  • Kitchen
  • Fireplace
  • Bathroom
  • 1000 Sq. Ft.
  • Min. stay 2 days

This cabin costs $298 per day for four guests.

Birdsong Cabin

  • 6 Guests
  • 1 King Bed
  • Loft – 2 Queens
  • Whirlpool tub
  • Kitchen
  • Fireplace
  • Bathroom
  • 1000 Sq. Ft.
  • Min. stay 2 days

This cabin is perfect for a romantic getaway and it costs $269 per day for two guests.

Missouri Birdwatching Clubs

Residents living in the state of Missouri have a lot to love about this exciting birdwatching locale. There are a number of National Audubon Society chapters in your area to become members of and there are likely other bird watching clubs and groups that you might want to join as well.

More important than anything else, joining a birdwatching community and becoming a member of the club provides a great opportunity for you and others just like you. You’ll have a chance to meet like-minded individuals that you’ll get to know as you go on bird watching excursions and adventures together throughout the year.

Even better, you and the other members of this group will have many wonderful things in common, so it’s going to lead to a plethora of exciting and fun-filled experiences that you can enjoy together as part of the community and local chapter.

Become a member and join in on the fun and experience local monthly meetings, birding field trips, special events, and much more.

Burroughs Audubon Society Of Greater Kansas City


The Burroughs Audubon Society of Greater Kansas City is a chapter of the National Audubon Society. This group first began as a nature club and was founded in 1919, so it’s been around for more than 100 years. They became an official member of the National Audubon Society all the way back in 1971 and in 2021 they are celebrating their 50-year anniversary!

The great thing about Burroughs Audubon is they provide a lot of activities, conservation efforts, bird counts, and much more. They host regular field trips, have general meetings on a fairly regular basis with special speakers and programs, and they even host bird walks as well, so there’s always something going on for members to enjoy.

Contact Info:

Burroughs Audubon Society
7300 SW W. Park Rd.
Blue Springs, MO 64015
Phone: 816-795-1877
Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • Overland Park Arboretum – coming up on December 7, 2021, Mike Stoakes will be leading a group of 15 participants to visit the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. During this excursion, the group participants will be looking for migrant and resident songbirds and they will also look for migrating raptors as well. Masks are required and the trip is being held on the free admission day at the Arboretum, so the event is free. Call or text Mike at 816-283-6258 to reserve your spot.
  • Scoping Miami and Linn Counties – this event takes place tomorrow, November 20, 2021. Like the previous trip, all participants are required to wear a mask for their safety and the safety of the group. A daily permit costs five dollars per day for a Kansas State Park Pass. During the trip, you’ll grab lunch at Casey’s and throughout the day obese searching for loons, goals, grebes, and waterfowl. Most of the trip involves driving and very little walking is involved. Call 608-807-6086 for more information.

Membership Fees:

Becoming a member of the Burroughs Audubon Society is one of the easiest things in the world to accomplish. It doesn’t cost a great deal of money since they only charge $20 per year for membership at the minimal amount.

To become a member, or to provide support via donation, please visit the membership and support page on their website found here.

Greater Ozarks Audubon Society

The mission of the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society is to help Southwest Missouri focus on bird conservation, education, habitat preservation, habitat restoration, public awareness, and birdwatching and connecting with other like-minded individuals.

This chapter was originally established in 1962. It was originally called the Audubon Club of Springfield, but it eventually joined the National Audubon Society back in 1980.

This group is all about action, collaboration, commitment, diversity, integrity, optimism, education, and respect. You can find out more about who they are and their mission statement by visiting this page here.

Contact Info:

Mailing Address
GOAS
PO Box 3231
Springfield, MO 65808-3231

Email: [email protected]  

Please visit the Who We Are Page to learn the names of the officers, committee chairs, and their phone numbers and contact information.

Past and Future Events:

  • 30th Annual GOAS Bird Seed Sale! – The organization is hosting its annual bird seed sale for the 30th time this year on November 20, 2001 from 8 AM to 4 PM. You can preorder your seeds online by visiting this page and pick them up at the event. Or you can go directly to the source by visiting the Watershed Center at Valley Water Mill Park on Saturday during the allotted time. Caesar available in 25- and 50-pound bags.
  • Springfield Christmas Bird Count – this bird count is being held on Saturday, December 18, 2021 from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM. This is part of the 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count for the National Audubon Society. Participants will join teams and meet at specific locations and times during the day. Call Greg Samuel at 417-839-5627 if you’d like to participate in this exciting activity.

Membership Fees:

They make it very easy to become a member of the National Audubon Society. Visit this page on Audubon.org to sign up online. The minimum membership is $20, but you can become a member at various levels depending on how much you’d like to donate to the group.

Membership levels are as follows:

  • $20
  • $50
  • $75
  • $100
  • $250
  • $500

When you join, please do not forget to select the correct chapter donation designation. In this particular case, you should select Greater Ozarks Audubon Society (N04).

Birding In Missouri Destinations & Clubs Wrap Up

While visiting Missouri or if you are a resident and are looking for birding in Missouri locations & birding clubs, we hope you take the time to explore the resources we have laid out here. And, if you come across other locations that you’d like to share, please contact us so we can include them here!

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