Great Birding Sites
in the Middle Mississippi River Valley


Photo of Pelicans near Grafton, Illinois by Betty M. Bannister
   




greatriverroad.com covers an approximately 450 mile stretch of the Mississippi River. In this region the National Audubon Society has identified locations that are the best places to look for birds in its Great River Birding Trail project. Listed are easily-accessible sites that are along or close to the Great River Road such as parks, overlooks, and wildlife refuges where people can observe a variety of bird species and enjoy the scenic beauty of the river valley. greatriverroad.com has detailed coverage of many of these sites and added a few of our own. We hope that you will find our information useful when you are planning a trip to get a look at some of the 326 species that use the river corridor as a home or a stopping off point during their migration.

43 Great Places for Birding
Locations geographically listed from north to south
Nauvoo State Park
50 N. Wells Street
Nauvoo, IL
217-453-6252
  This 148-acre park includes the 13-acre Lake Horton with a mile-long shoreline. In addition to fishing, boating, camping and hiking, people return to these serene surroundings for the park's recreational features. Birders should look for White Pelicans, Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaup, and Caspian Terns may all be seen in Nauvoo State Park during migration. Bald Eagles may also be seen during migration as well as winter.
   
Wakonda State Park
32836 State Park Road
La Grange, MO
573-655-2280
  Wakonda State Park is composed of land that once was mined of gravel used to surface Missouri's secondary highways. The land has been transformed into a recreation area featuring six lakes, hiking and bicycling trails, and a rare sand prairie. 87 bird species have been recorded for the park. Look for grassland species such as Lark and Field Sparrows and the Dickcissel. Also, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, American White Pelicans, and Bitterns may be seen along with various waterfowl and wading birds.
Quincy Bay
State Fish and Wildlife Area

Off IL-24
Quincy, IL
  Located just north of Quincy this site consists primarily of Mississippi River floodplain forest and wetland habitats interspersed with various water bodies. Bird watchers should look for American white pelicans and various waterfowl during fall migration and bald eagles in winter. In spring and summer look for various wading birds, ospreys, and neo-tropical songbirds.
Ted Shanks
Conservation Area

3643 Pike 145
Ashburn, MO
573-258-2530
  Located on Highway TT off US 79 between Hannibal and Louisiana, this 6,705 acre area wetlands is teeming with waterfowl, songbirds, mammals and wildflowers. This site features primitive camping, boat ramps, and a staffed office with exhibits. Bald Eagles can be seen from late fall to early spring. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets can be seen from late spring thru autumn.
The Clarksville
Tourist Information
Center
and
Lock and Dam #24

Highway 79
Clarksville, MO
573-242-3132
  Overlooking the Mississippi River and Lock and Dam #24, the Clarksville Tourist Information Center offers information about the town, its history, and local attractions. Binoculars and spotting scopes are available during the winter for Bald Eagle watchers. Lock and Dam #24 has an observation platform. Due to funding problems the Clarksville Tourist Information Center is open only during special events and by appointment.
   
Two Rivers
National Wildlife Refuge
County Road 1
618- 883-2524
  This refuge consists of a variety of habitats and is a major migration corridor for waterfowl, bald eagles and other birds. The refuge is closed mid-October to mid-December, but the office/visitor center is open weekdays and some weekends during that period.
   
Pere Marquette State Park
5 miles west of Grafton
on Route 100
618-786-3323
  Approximately 230 species of birds have been identified within, at the boundaries or flying over Pere Marquette State Park, Illinois’ largest state park. Popular locations for bird watching are Stump Lake, in the river bottoms, McAdams Peak and other overlooks along the scenic drive through the park. The Park is well known as one of the best spots to look for American Bald Eagles in the winter. The Park presents informative programs about these magnificent creatures during the months of late December, January, and February.
   
Melvin Price Locks & Dam
2751 Berns Highway
East Alton
877-462-6979
  Visitors can watch river craft use the locks and the area is a favorite site for bald eagles in the winter. Free tours are available daily.
   
Riverlands Migratory
Bird Sanctuary
301 Riverlands Way
West Alton, MO
636-899-2600 or
1-888-899-2602
  The Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is listed on the National Audubon Society's Great River Birding Trail. They report that snipe, yellowlegs and American Golden-plovers can be seen on the marsh mudflats, white gulls and waterfowl swim and feed along the river and in Ellis Bay. Thousands of American White Pelicans, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup migrate through here, along with sea ducks such as Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye. Also watch for Northern Harriers and Short-Eared Owls. During the coldest part of the winter when the river freezes over, American Bald Eagles line the banks just below the dam, taking advantage of the open water and upwelling currents.
   
Confluence Point State Park
1000 Riverlands Way
West Alton, MO
636-899-1135
  The confluence point is one of the area's best places for bird watching as millions of birds migrate along the Mississippi River corridor each spring & fall. Commons birds seen in the area include American Bald Eagles, great blue herons, geese, gulls, American White Pelicans, and many kinds of songbirds. The park features interpretive panels that explain the Lewis & Clark expedition, the surrounding wetlands, and the history of the two rivers. A 1/4 mile handicapped accessible paved trail leads winds through maple and willow trees to the point where visitors have an unobstructed view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
   
Columbia Bottom
Conservation Area

801 Strodtman Road
St. Louis, MO
314-877-6014
  The managed wetlands at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area provide resting and feeding areas for ducks, geese and other migratory birds including herons, egrets, and pelicans. An accessible boardwalk over the bottomland waters make it easy to get into the natural area. The site also offers superb birding opportunities in the spring.
   
John F. Kennedy
Memorial Forest

Wells Drive, Forest Park
St. Louis, MO
314-367-7275
  The Kennedy Forest is home to approximately 35 resident birds including hawks, barred owls, a variety of woodpeckers and songbirds. There are some birds such as the Indigo Bunting and American Goldfinch that summer here and leave when it becomes cold and are replaced by birds such as the White-Throated Sparrow and Dark-Eyed Junco who like to winter in the area. In April and May the forest becomes very active during the passerine migration as over a dozen different warblers as well as orioles, thrushes, and tanagers take advantage of this oasis of nature.
Weldon Spring Conservation Area
MO-94 South
St. Charles County, MO
636-441-4554
  If you’re a birder the than 8,000 acres, a variety of habitat types, several access points and nearly 30 miles of trails, make this area is a great place to add a few species to your life list. Among the over 200 bird species listed area are the worm-eating warbler, painted bunting, and blue grosbeak.
   
Watershed Nature Center
1591 Tower Road
Edwardsville, IL
618-692-7578
  The habitats at the 40-acre Watershed Nature Center include mixed hardwood forests and grassy meadows. A 1-mile path around its two main ponds gives easy access to birders looking for waterfowl. A raised walkway through wetlands and pond edge has been added to a 3000-foot handicap-accessible path. Birders can expect to see a wide range of waterfowl, many herons or egrets, hawks, sparrows, and other songbirds.
     
Horseshoe Lake State Park
3321 Highway 111
Granite City
618-931-0270
  The Horseshoe Lake State Park. a 2,960 acre park centered around an oxbow lake, is an excellent place for bird watching. It has been said that virtually all species of birds that have been spotted in the state have been seen at one time or another at the Park. In July and August the southern portion of the lake is drained and spread with millet by plane. The resulting mudflats attract many snowy egrets and blue herons in search of clams and snails. A four mile self guided nature trail on Walker Island has 5 watch areas for birding at the different habitats that can be found on the island.
     
World Bird Sanctuary
125 Bald Eagle Ridge Road
Valley Park, MO
636-225-4390
  With over 130-acres the WBS is home to eagles, owls, hawks, falcons, vultures, parrots, mammals and reptiles. A team of Naturalists offer an array of education programs covering a variety of environmental topics. Admission is free but there is a fee for programs and guided tours. The site also has several nature trails allowing visitors to get out into the wilderness.
     
Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve
Bluff Road
Valmeyer, IL
618-458-4674
  The 532 acres of upland habitat of this area attract a variety of birds throughout the year. Birds that are commonly sighted during spring migration are a variety of warblers, American redstart, rose-breasted grosbeak and wood thrush. Turkey vultures, often seen in groups of five or six, are common in the fall. Also seen overhead from September through November are migrating hawks such as red-tailed, broad-winged, Cooper's, and sharp-shinned hawks as well as osprey and northern harriers. An occasional bald eagle may be seen during the winter months.
Valley View Glades
Conservation Area

Route B
Hillsboro, MO
636-458-2236
  Glades usually are small, rocky openings on hills in forests, woodlands and prairies and there is a large complex of glades in central Jefferson County. Bird watching includes glade and woodland species throughout the year. The Audubon Society maintains a checklist of 48 species have been recorded being seen at Valley View Glades Natural Area.
Pickle Springs Natural Area
Dorlac Road
Ste. Genevieve County, MO
  Designated a National Natural Landmark, this area has geologic features and plants that occur in few other places. Pickle Springs Natural Area is listed on the National Audubon Society's Great River Birding Trail. They report that they found 73 bird species including 43 probable and 15 confirmed breeding species. Pine Warblers may be seen in summer as well as tanagers and other forest birds.
   
Hawn State Park
12096 Park Drive
Ste. Genevieve County, MO
573-883-3603
  With pine and oak forests, sandstone bluffs and canyons, and clear sand-bottom streams, this nearly 5,000 acre park is considered on of the most scenic in Missouri. The park has many nature trails, picnic areas and a campground for those who wish to get out and enjoy nature. The National Audubon Society reports that there are at least 84 species of birds, 31 which are confirmed breeders. Historically, the area supports Brown-headed Nuthatches, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and Bachman's Sparrows. Henslow's Sparrows and Pine Warblers are common in the summer months.
Turkey Bluffs
State Fish and Wildlife Area

4301 S. Lakeside Drive
Chester, IL
618-826-2706
  This site consists of open areas, cultivated fields, hay fields, brushy areas, and mature stands of bottomland and upland forest. Scenic overlooks provide good views of the Mississippi River. Picnic areas and scenic overlooks provide good views of soaring eagles and hawks during fall migration. Forested areas provide good locations for observing neo-tropical migrant species.
   
Tower Rock Conservation Area
PCR 460 (off Highway A)
Perry County, MO
573-290-5730
  Tower Rock, also known as Grand Tower, is a small landmark limestone island carved by the Mississippi River. The mainland offers picnic facilities and a 1/4 mile hiking trail to a viewing platform that offers a scenic view of Tower Rock. The island itself is accessible if the river is particularly low, otherwise it is only accessible by boat. Tower Rock is a designated National Historic Site as it is mentioned in the journals of the explorers Marquette and Joliet in 1673 as well as Lewis and Clark in 1803.
   
Kinkaid Lake
Jackson County, IL
618-684-2867
  Lake Kinkaid is a 2,750 acres body of water located in the Shawnee Hills region of southwestern Illinois. The lake attracts anglers because of its abundance of game fish and over 90 miles of shoreline and water depths to 75 feet. There are three recreation areas along the lake and the area offers picnicking, hiking, wildlife viewing, swimming, horseback riding, and camping opportunities.
   
Little Grand Canyon
Hickory Ridge Road
Jackson County, IL
618-253-7114
  The Little Grand Canyon National Natural Landmark is a small, but dramatic, part of the 280,000-acre Shawnee National Forest.  A small creek with a tiny watershed has carved an impressive box canyon, more than 200 feet deep, leading down to the Big Muddy River. The Little Grand Canyon area is listed on the National Audubon Society's Great River Birding Trail. Birding is good during both spring and fall migrations for neo-tropical songbirds. The red-shouldered hawk and pileated woodpecker may be seen year around along with breeding neo-tropical songbirds.
   
LaRue-Pine Hills
LaRue Road
Wolf Lake, IL
618-687-1731
  As with many places in the Shawnee National Forest, the beauty we see today is rooted in its geologic history. At LaRue-Pine Hills it took millions of years to form its bedrock before nature’s erosive forces took over and created the 150-foot limestone bluffs that now rise out of the Mississippi floodplain. These massive bluffs extend roughly 5 miles along Highway 3 are as impressive today as they were to explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1803.  In the upland forested ravines birdwatchers can easily find Kentucky and Worm-eating Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes and other forest birds. The site contains one of the most northernmost southern swamps that attract igrating herons, egrets, and other shorebirds. The site is also home to a variety of raptors.
   
Trail of Tears State Forest
3240 State Forest Road
Jonesboro, IL
618-833-4910
  Trail of Tears State Forest is one of five Illinois' state forests in a system that was established to set aside lands for the growing of timber needed in production of forest products, for watershed protection and to provide outdoor recreation. The Forest consists of just over 5,000 acres and lies within the southern section of the Illinois’ Ozark Hills region, one of the most rugged landscapes in Illinois. The site is an excellent place to visit during spring migration. Watch for warblers, vireos, thrushes, and tanagers. Worm-eating warblers are often seen along with orioles, blue grosbeaks, and Dickcissels. The park also offers picnicking, camping, hiking, and other wildlife viewing opportunities.
   
Trail of Tears State Park
429 Moccasin Springs
Jackson, MO
573-290-5268
  Trail of Tears State Park is a memorial to the members of the Cherokee tribe that lost their lives during their forced relocation in the winter of 1838-39. The peaceful, serene setting and the abundance of recreational opportunities of the 3,415-acre park are in sharp contrast to the tragic history that gives the park its name. The park preserves the native woodlands much as they appeared to the Cherokee. Mature forests cover much of the park, which is characterized by sharp ridges and steep ravines. Located directly on the Mississippi River the park attracts numerous migrant and nesting neo-tropical forest songbirds. Mississippi kites can also be seen.
   
Union County
State Fish & Wildlife Area

2755 Refuge Road
Jonesboro, IL
618-833-5175
  The Union County State Fish & Wildlife Area was acquired by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the late 1940s and developed a wintering goose population in excess of 50,000 birds by 1964. The area encompasses 6,202 acres in the Lower Mississippi River bottomlands division of Illinois. Public use in the refuge is limited. Sightseeing and wildlife photography are permitted and the area is one of the few places in Illinois where so many wild geese can be closely observed and photographed in their natural habitat.
   
Horseshoe Lake
State Fish & Wildlife Area

Illinois Route 3
Miller City, IL
618-776-5689
  Horseshoe Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area is a 10,200 acre area that includes a 2,400 acre shallow oxbow lake located seven miles north of Cairo. Visitors may be reminded of the Deep South with the abundance of bald cypress, tupelo gum, swamp cottonwood trees, and wild lotus. The site is a good one for observing not only Canada Geese in winter but also other waterfowl as well as Bald Eagles. In the warmer months, expect to see wading birds and typical forest dwellers typical of bottomland hardwood forests. The site also offers picnic, camping, fishing, and other wildlife viewing opportunities.
   
Columbus-Belmont State Park
350 Park Road
Columbus, KY
270-677-2327
  Columbus-Belmont State Park sits on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The park is the site of a Confederate fortification built during the Civil War to prevent Union forces from using the river. Some of the artillery and the six-ton anchor that held the great chain stretching across the river are on display in the park. In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps built a stone monument to hold the chain. The site affords excellent opportunities to see birds characteristic of loess bluff upland hardwood forests and may be a good site for observing birds migrating up or down the Mississippi river in the spring or fall.
   
Ten Mile Pond
Conservation Area

MO-102
East Prairie, MO
573-649-2770
  Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area is a 3,755-acre area that was once a lowland hardwood forest intermingled with cypress sloughs. Most of the area is flooded seasonally and was an important habitat for wintering waterfowl, furbearers, eagles, and other wildlife species. Visitors can view wildlife from the handicapped accessible Richard T. Reed Observation Platform located at the C/D parking lot. Duck and goose hunting and viewing waterfowl are the most popular outdoor activities on the area. Bald eagles are common on the area from late fall through early spring. 202 species have been entered on trip lists for this public land and the area welcomes wading shorebirds in the spring.
   
Big Oak Tree State Park
13640 MO-102
East Prairie, MO
573-649-3149
  Big Oak Tree State Park is an oasis of forests located in the abundance of farmland of southeast Missouri. Today, trees in the park are unsurpassed in the state for their size with several trees more than 130 feet tall and four trees qualifying as state champions. The park features a boardwalk that winds its way through the park past some of the park's largest trees and gives visitors a chance to view a variety of wildlife. An interpretive center explains the forest and swamp ecosystem in the park. Over 150 species of birds have been observed at this site including bald eagles, Mississippi kites, waterfowl and other water birds, and forest dwelling songbirds. This location is an excellent place for observing migrant species during both the spring and fall migration periods.
Donaldson Point Conservation Area
Route WW and Route AB
New Madrid, MO
573-748-5134 or 573-290-5730
  Donaldson Point Conservation Area is about six miles southeast of New Madrid and the land was purchased the 1984. The area's 5,785 acres are at the north end of Donaldson Point, which is formed by the New Madrid Bend Loop of the Mississippi River. Donaldson Point is home to several species not usually seen in the Mississippi lowlands. These include the endangered Swainson's warbler that nests in giant cane, Mississippi kites, bald eagles, and interior least terns.
   
Little River Conservation Area
US-412
Kennett, MO
573-290-5730
  The Little River Conservation Area is located within the Mississippi Delta region and contains the 150-acre Jerry P. Combs Lake, as well as five floodway ditches. The area also contains 103 acres of reforested bottomland hardwood, 477 acres of marshes, and 306 acres in use as agricultural fields. For birders the most common birds that can be expected to be seen are spring and fall shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl and raptor migrations. Other bird species that can be found are dickcissel, bobolink, and other grassland bird species.
   
Ben Cash Memorial
Conservation Area

County Road 516
Kennett, MO
573-290-5730
  Ben Cash Memorial Conservation Area is a 1,443-acre area located in the St. Francis River floodplain and contains 1,210 acres of lowland forest, 44 acres of swamp, and 195 acres of open fields. Birders will find that woodland warblers, waders, and waterfowl are common during migration.
   
Reelfoot Lake State Park
2595 AR-21
Tiptonville, TN
731-253-8003
  Reelfoot Lake State Park is located in the northwest corner of Tennessee and consists of 280 acres broken into 10 different areas that are situated along the shoreline. The lake harbors almost every kind of shore and wading bird including the golden and American bald eagles. There are three easy to moderate hiking trails and an Auto Tour that visits points of interest. During the winter months experienced park naturalists lead daily bald eagle and waterfowl bus and van tours.
   
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge
4343 AR-157
Union City, TN
731-538-2481
  The 10,428 acre Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge is located on the northern portion of Reelfoot Lake. Due to the proximity to the Mississippi River the refuge is a major stopover point and wintering area for waterfowl of the Mississippi Flyway. The Long Point unit is the refuge's primary waterfowl management area where farmers plant crops and leave behind a percentage and natural vegetation are managed to attract waterfowl. Ten miles of gravel roads are open to the public use from March 16 to November 14. During the winter this area is closed for use as a waterfowl sanctuary except for a parking area and observation tower on the main entrance road. The observation tower is great for waterfowl viewing.
   
Crowley's Ridge State Park
2092 AR-168 North
Paragould, AR
870-573-6751
  Crowley's Ridge State Park is a great place for birders. Exotic birds such as the great blue heron, belted kingfisher, and various species of waterfowl can be seen from the Walcott Lake Trail atop the sprawling fishing lake levee. Wild turkey and white tailed deer are often spotted, as well as woodpeckers and Carolina Chickadees along the Spider Creek Trail.
   
St. Francis Sunken Lands
Wildlife Management Area

Craighead, Poinsett
& Greene Counties
, AR
800-364-4263
  Some isolated stands of old growth bald cypress still exist in the Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area, and there are excellent opportunities for bird watching and wildlife viewing. The Payneway Moist Soil Unit located on the west side of the river, just north of the St. Francis Lake control Structure hosts a variety of shorebirds, eagles and several duck species. The area is flooded in October through February annually to provide wintering habitat for migrant birds and ducks. As many as 50,000 ducks are commonly seen on the area which is protected from hunting as a waterfowl rest area.
   
Lake Frierson State Park
7904 AR-141
Jonesboro, AR
870-932-2615
  On the lake and along the shoreline, osprey, woodpeckers, herons and kingfishers are seen year round. Lake Frierson State Park is also a good viewing area for migratory waterfowl in the winter.
   
Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge
AR-18
Manila, AR
870-564-2429
  Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge was important in the recovery of the bald eagle from its endangered status. Eagles came back to nest on the refuge in 1989 and have annually raised young since 1993. The refuge annually winters many species of waterfowl. Peak numbers in January and February can exceed 200,000. Wood ducks are year-round residents and annually raise approximately 2,500 young in natural cavities and nest boxes. Over 225 bird species have been observed on the refuge and recorded by visiting ornithologists.
Fort Pillow State Historic Park
3122 Park Road
Henning, TN
731-738-5581
  Fort Pillow State Historic Park is scenically located in Lauderdale County on the Chickasaw Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. This 1,642-acre park is frequented by birders and is an excellent location to observe a wide variety of forest birds in the summer such as the Prothonotary Warbler, Mississippi Kite, Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Northern Parulas. Large numbers of congregating and migrating swallows can be seen in July and August.
   
Wapanocca
National Wildlife Refuge

178 Hammond Avenue
Turrell, AR
870-343-2595
  Because of its strategic location in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway and the diverse habitat, Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge is a major stopover for warblers and other neo-tropical birds. The refuge is also a prime wintering area for migratory waterfowl. Bald eagles, great blue herons, great egrets and anhingas nest on the refuge.
   
FEATURED ATTRACTIONS ALONG THE GREAT RIVER ROAD
Lewis and Clark
State Historic Site
Mastodon
State Historic Site
Foundry Art Centre
St. Charles, MO
Cuivre River
State Park
     

whatbird.com - A very good site with comprehensive information on the American White Pelican and over 800 other birds.

 
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