COLUMBIA, MO – There are many reasons to love Columbia – the food, the festivals, the art, the music, the people – but many have an affinity for this college town for the opportunities it offers for an outdoor escape. City parks, state parks and trails galore make Columbia an outdoor enthusiast’s go-to in Central Missouri. The same parks and trails also make Columbia a bird-watcher’s paradise, too.
Missouri’s diversity of natural habitat means that over 320 species of birds regularly visit the state providing “birders” of all stripes – whether casual, beginner or experienced – the opportunity to catch a colorful array of avian creatures in their natural settings. “Columbia is an awesome place to be a birder,” says Sarah Kendrick, state ornithologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Columbia’s extensive trail systems and public spaces provide a lot of green space for birds to use year-round. Public lands just outside of town are also great for birding.”
The Great Missouri Birding Trail, a statewide initiative between the Missouri Bird Conservation Foundation and the Missouri Department of Conservation, is a great resource for anyone interested in bird-watching in the “Show-Me State.” The Birding Trail is comprised of over 170 designated locations around the state where birders will find the most success with their observations. The Great Missouri Birding Trail website also features interactive maps of the six distinct birding regions, details on Missouri’s bird habitats, tips for successful birding, lists of bird checklists based on region, and additional helpful information for anyone interested in bird-watching.
Naturally, birds can be observed at locations not listed on the map, however, Kendrick says that the Birding Trail is comprised of the “best of the best” locations in Missouri for bird watchers. And, it’s a great starting point when trying to find a good place to go. Columbia is the epicenter of the Central region of the Great Missouri Bird Trail and those looking to spot a feathered find have 15 locations within 20 miles of Columbia that are part of the Birding Trail.
One of Missouri’s most celebrated birding areas, Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, is located a mere 15 minutes southwest from the heart Columbia. This conservation area, which abuts the Missouri River, features 4,286 acres comprised mainly of wetlands, woodlands and prairie, and is designated as an important ornithology area by the Audubon Society of Missouri. As such, Eagle Bluffs is well known for shorebird and migratory game bird viewing, making it one of the best birding locations in the state. “Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is my favorite place to bird,” says Kendrick. “Its wetland pools and forest tracts along the Missouri River attract a diverse array of species. In fact, there have been 291 species reported on eBird.org! You can find songbirds, waterbirds, waterfowl, raptors and everything in between. Wetlands are our most productive habitat here in Missouri and Eagle Bluffs is a great example of that.”
In addition to Eagle Bluffs, there are many other popular city and state parks, nature areas and conservation areas that double as great birding spots. The Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area, located to the north of Columbia and very close to Finger Lakes State Park (161 species), has 208 species identified while Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, located to the southwest of Columbia, has 203 identified species of birds. The nine-mile MKT Nature and Fitness Trail, which begins in downtown Columbia and connects with the 240-mile Katy Trail State Park near McBaine, MO, has 169 species reported. Twin Lakes Recreation Area boasts 170 species, the Grindstone Nature Area has 177 species and the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary has 166 identified species of birds. This is just a highlight of a few of the “hot spots” along the Great Missouri Birding Trail around Columbia.
Off of the Great Birding Trail, there are still more hot spots in the Columbia area. Three locations of note include the two additional areas managed by the Columbia Audubon Society: The Albert Children’s Wildlife Area and the Wild Haven Nature Area. The 78-acre Albert Children’s Wildlife Area, located about 10 miles northeast of Columbia, is a reclaimed strip-mine with a mixed landscape of prairie and wetlands where 140 species have been identified. The Wild Haven Nature Area is a 103-acre tract on the northeast edge of Columbia consisting mainly of mature forest along a mile-long stretch of Hinkson Creek. Wild Haven has an extensive trail system and high-quality natural habitat with 136 species reported.
The third is Phillips Lake Trail at A. Perry Phillips Park, a 1.6-mile gravel trail loop that encircles the 40-acre Phillips Lake. Birders appreciate Phillips Lake as the body of water attracts grebes, geese and other waterfowl, especially during the winter months. Meadowlarks, mockingbirds and a variety of sparrow species are all common at the park year around. Local birders have identified 170 species at A. Perry Phillips Park.
For those uninitiated in the birding world, bird-watching is an outdoor activity that requires little to no sport-specific gear, though a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can certainly enhance the experience. It’s also highly recommended to dress for the weather, whenever and wherever you go, to make your experience as pleasant as possible. If you’re heading off-trail, insect repellent is also a handy tool to have in your arsenal. More helpful tips can be found at www.GreatMissouriBirdingTrail.com. For more ways to enjoy Columbia’s outdoors or to learn more about Columbia’s public outdoor spaces, head to www.VisitColumbiaMO.com or call the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau at 573-441-5572.
Columbia features a mix of small town charm and friendliness with the amenities and cultural offerings of a big city. There is always something exciting to see and do in Columbia, so for more information on these and other ways to have fun in Columbia, please contact Megan McConachie at the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau at 573-441-5572 or at VisitColumbiaMO.com.