Conservation Connection – Winter brings unique birds to St. Louis region

ST. LOUIS – There are plenty of fascinating birds to see, even in the winter. Colder months can draw many feathered visitors to the area, including some unique and or rare ones like the recent snowy owl sightings.

Bill Rowe, the Secretary of the Missouri Bird Records Committee, visits Fox 2 News at 11 to discuss the sightings.

Q. Why does winter bring some of these unique birds to the St. Louis region?
• Many birds migrate long distances in the course of a year.
• Some are here in the summer but leave for the winter. Others nest farther north, even in the Arctic, and then come south to stay with us in our colder weather.
• Some of these birds are regular, normal winter visitors; others are rare enough to make winter an exciting time to go birding.
• Occasionally, conditions in their normal winter ranges can push birds typically not seen here to this area.

Q. The snowy owl was one of these. Why were they here?
• An explosion in the population of lemmings (small arctic rodents) provided food abundance for snowy owls, causing their populations to grow, causing an eruption.
• Many of the younger owls were pushed farther south, about 20 were seen in northern Missouri.

Q. What are some other birds could viewers see that aren’t typical?
• Rough-legged hawk: not as rare as snowy owl, but still a good find. Nests in the Arctic; food, habitat, etc. Like the common red-tailed hawk.
• Iceland gull: comes down in coldest weather and joins flocks of common gulls at dams, along with some other rarities.
• Snow buntings with larks and longspurs: open fields of Missouri countryside, often have winter flocks. Can be joined by snow buntings from the north.
• Varied thrush: this one from northwestern forests, not arctic, but tends to show up in winter; regular in Montana, but very rare here. Watch for it in your yard -- a bird like a robin.
• Siskin, redpoll joining goldfinches, house finch: any of us could see this combination at our homes: goldfinches abundant at winter feeders, sometimes joined by pine siskins from the farther north; rarest is a redpoll, but this is a pretty good year.
• Trumpeter swans: over 1,300 counted this year at Riverlands.

Q. What do you suggest to increase chances of seeing these birds?

• Put out bird feeders.
• Visit parks and conservation areas.
• Look for migratory birds in wetland areas.
• Use a good pair of binoculars or spotting scope.
• Consult field guides or bird id phone apps.