Missouri is a popular migration spot for many birds that will travel south for the winter. More specifically, these birds travel to certain Missouri habitats, such as freshwater marshes, lakes, and ponds, that contain their niches. In this article, we’ll be going over several birds that migrate to Missouri during the winter.
Scientific Name: Aythya valisineria
Range: North America, Mexico
The canvasback is a showy duck with a triangular head and a forehead that slopes down into its long bill. The males are of white bodies, black chests, red-brown heads, and red eyes. Females are of a grayish-brown color with dark brown eyes.
The canvasback breeds in small lakes, deep-water marshes, bays, and ponds. They prefer areas of water surrounded by cattails, rushes, and reed grass but will also occupy open marshes in boreal forests. They will spend winter in any body of water that contains submerged aquatic vegetation for them to feed.
Canvasbacks are omnivores that eat anything from seeds to plant tubers to mussels and insects. They consume mainly plants during the winter but will consume a combination of plants and animals during the breeding season for extra energy.
The canvasback migrates from northwestern Canada and Alaska along three different paths to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States, as well as to the northern tributaries of the Mississippi river, the latter of which includes Missouri. They migrate mainly due to the cold temperatures freezing the water bodies where they usually prey, hence forcing them to turn south.
They will begin migration in early October and return to southern Ontario by late February and southern Manitoba by mid-April. Therefore, the best months to view them in Missouri are from late October to February.
Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos
Range: North America, Europe, Central Asia, Japan
The mallard is a large duck with an iridescent green head, a yellow bill, a chestnut breast, and a gray body for males. Females are browner in color with orange and black patches on the bills. Both genders have white wing bars on the leading and trailing ends of the blue wing patch.
These ducks can be found in any habitat that contains water, such as city parks, backyard creeks, marshes, and other wetland habitats. This wide range of habitats helps explain why there’s such a large population of mallards around the world.
The majority of the mallard’s diet consists of plant material, such as the seeds, stems, and roots of a variety of plants, especially grasses, pondweeds, and many others. They will also consume acorns, tree seeds, and other types of waste grain. They’ll occasionally consume insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and fish.
For mallard populations that breed in Canada and Alaska, you can typically observe them migrating to the southern United States (including Missouri) and northern Mexico. They do this mainly due to a lack of open water and food availability during the colder months.
Mallards begin migration at the end of August and last till December, after which they’ll return to the Canadian prairie provinces (Manitoba and Saskatchewan in particular) in February or March. Therefore, the best times to view them in Missouri are between the months of September and March.
3. Wilson’s Snipe
Scientific Name: Gallinago delicata
Range: North and Central America
The Wilson’s snipe is a plump shorebird that consists of dark plumage with heavy markings, buffy stripes on the back and face, and a long bill that is used to search for invertebrates in the mud. It’s similar in appearance to the American woodcock but is darker and has more markings on its underparts.
Preferred habitats of Wilson’s snipe include muddy wetlands, flooded fields, and inland marshes and bogs. They typically live in the northern regions of North America and Alaska while migrating south during the winter.
The Wilson’s snipe consumes mainly insects and earthworms. Most of the prey they eat bury themselves in damp soil or live in shallow water, such as crane flies, horse flies, and certain beetles. They may also eat earthworms, crustaceans, leaves, and seeds.
The Wilson’s snipe migrates from Canada and the northern United States down to the mid-latitude and southern United States (including Missouri), all the way to Central America. They migrate mainly due to their special breeding requirements, in that they can only breed in areas where melting snow presents an abundance of insects and, thus, a large food source for the chicks.
The Wilson’s snipe migrates in September and can last till November, after which they’ll return as far north as the Arctic starting in December. There is a range because Wilson’s snipe will arrive and leave earlier at the states closer to their breeding grounds as compared to the farther wintering locations. For Missouri, they will arrive there in September and leave by December, so your best time to view Wilson’s snipe will be between those months.
4. Short-eared Owl
Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
Range: North America, Mexico, South America, Europe, Central Asia
The short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl that is brown overall, with a pale belly, streaks, and spots on its wings and chest, and large pale patches near the wingtips that can be seen in flight. Their coloration can vary depending on their range, with those in the Galapagos being the darkest.
The short-eared owl tends to fly over open fields and marshes in search of small mammals during dawn or dusk. Other preferred habitats include prairies, dunes, and tundra.
The short-eared owl feeds mainly on rodents such as voles, lemmings, deer mice, and pocket mice. Other animals in their diet can sometimes include shrews, rabbits, and gophers.
The short-eared owl migrates from Canada and Alaska down to the mid-latitude (including Missouri) and the southern United States, all the way down to the southern half of South America. Missouri is special in that the northern half of the state contains short-eared owls that live there year-round, while the southern half includes migratory short-eared owls. These owls migrate mainly due to the need for better food sources during times when it’s tough to hunt for prey.
The short-eared owl typically migrates from the start of August to the end of September and will return to the northern states and Canada anytime from the end of March to the end of April the following year. Therefore, the best times to view this bird in Missouri are between the months of August and April.
5. Common Merganser/Goosander
Scientific Name: Mergus merganser
Range: North America, Europe, China, Mongolia, Japan
The common merganser/goosander is a large duck with a slim body and a thin red bill. Breeding males consist of a dark green head and a white body with a light pink coloration on the underparts. Females, nonbreeding males, and juveniles have rusty brown heads, gray bodies, and white throats.
The common merganser/goosander often feeds in rivers, lakes, and ponds by diving in the water to catch fish. They will move to lakes, gravel pits, reservoirs, and sometimes sheltered estuaries during the winter.
The diet of the common merganser/goosander includes mainly fish, as well as other marine animals such as mollusks and crustaceans. Other prey they sometimes feed on include worms, insect larvae, amphibians, small mammals, and birds.
The common merganser/goosander migrates from Canada and Alaska to mainly the midwestern United States (including Missouri), with some going down to as far as Texas. They do this to find open lakes and rivers that are not frozen due to the cold temperatures.
The common merganser/goosander migrates in November and will typically return to Canada and Alaska by March of the following year. Thus, the best times to view this bird in Missouri would be between the months of November and March.
6. Common Goldeneye
Scientific Name: Bucephala clangula
Range: North America, Europe, Central Asia
The common goldeneye is a medium-sized duck that, for adult males, consists of a black head, a bill with a white patch at the base, and a white body with some shades of black. Females and juveniles have gray bodies and chocolate-brown heads. All individuals, besides the juvenile females, have bright yellow eyes that make this species very recognizable from a distance.
Preferred habitats for the common goldeneye include a variety of wetland habitats such as lakes, ponds, and marshes. They will often spend their winters on inland lakes, rivers, coastal bays, and nearshore waters.
The diet for the common goldeneye typically includes crustaceans and mollusks such as crabs, shrimp, crayfish, amphipods, barnacles, and mussels. They also consume insects that can be found near water and fish, along with their eggs.
The common goldeneye migrates from Canada and Alaska to either the Pacific coast along Oregon and California (if they’re western-breeding birds) or the Atlantic coast (if they’re eastern breeders). Some also winter on or near large inland lakes and rivers (hence Missouri). They do this due to declining open water and food.
They typically migrate around late fall (November or December) and will return to Canada and Alaska sometime between March and May. Your best bet to find these birds in Missouri will be around November and late March when their migration peaks.
7. Lapland Longspur/Lapland Bunting
Scientific Name: Calcarius lapponicus
Range: North America (especially Alaska and northern Canada), Greenland, Scandinavia, Great Britain
The Lapland longspur/Lapland bunting is a ground-dweller that highly resembles a sparrow, with breeding males having a yellow bill, a black face, bright white eyebrows, and a rust-colored nape not seen in any other bird. Females, nonbreeding birds, and juveniles are subtler.
The Lapland longspur/Lapland bunting flocks in winter on barren landscapes such as on beaches and dirt fields. During the breeding season, they can be found in the arctic tundra.
The diet of the Lapland longspur/Lapland bunting consists mainly of seeds from grasses and other plants during the winter and insects and arthropods during the summer. They may occasionally feed on fly larvae present on carcasses, making this species an opportunistic feeder as well.
The Lapland longspur/Lapland bunting migrates from northern Canada and Alaska to the central and eastern United States (including Missouri). They migrate mainly due to a need for more food and resource availability.
The Lapland longspur/Lapland bunting typically migrates late in fall and returns to northern Canada and Alaska early in spring. Hence, the best times to view these birds in Missouri would be between the months of November and March, when peak migration occurs, and when you can most likely find them wintering in the state.
8. American Tree Sparrow
Scientific Name: Spizelloides arborea
Range: North America (mainly in Northern Canada and Alaska)
The American tree sparrow is a northern sparrow consisting of a plump body, a small bill, and a long, thin tail. They have a rust-colored cap and eye-line, a gray head, and a plain gray breast with a dark smudge in the center. Males and females are similar in appearance.
During the winter, the American tree sparrow can be found in habitats such as weedy fields containing shrubs, forest edges, and marshes. They also visit backyards regularly. They migrate to southern Canada and the US during the winter while spending their time in the tundra during the summer.
The American tree sparrow is omnivorous, feeding on a variety of seeds, berries, and insects. Similar to some of the previous birds we’ve looked at, this bird tends to feed on grass, seeds, and other plant material during the winter while focusing more on insects and spiders during the summer.
The American tree sparrow migrates from northern Canada and Alaska down to the northern and central states (including Missouri) of north America, sometimes going as far down as Arizona, Texas, and Alabama. They do this due to a need for warmer weather and its associated abundance of food.
The American tree sparrow’s migration begins around late fall (late October to late December) and will return to northern Canada and Alaska in March of the following year. Therefore, the best times to view it in Missouri would be between the months of November and March.
9. Fox Sparrow
Scientific Name: Passerella iliaca
Range: North America
The fox sparrow is a large sparrow that is dark in color with thick streaks across the body. There are four subspecies, each with its traits, across North America: red (eastern US and Alaska), slate-colored (Rockies), Soot-colored (pacific northwest), and thick-billed (California).
Their specific habitat depends on the subspecies, but it generally consists of forests with thick understory and an abundance of conifers, as well as areas with dense thickets (during the winter).
The fox sparrow’s diet consists mainly of seeds and insects. They typically consume most of the insects (such as beetles, flies, spiders, and millipedes) during the breeding season. During the rest of the year, their diet is mainly made up of seeds from weeds and grasses.
The fox sparrow migrates from Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern United States (including Washington and Oregon) to the midwestern (including Missouri) and the southeastern United States. The fox sparrow does this due to a need for warmer weather and food. They may also do this to retrieve to an area of lower elevation, as these areas will be warmer than areas of higher elevation.
The fox sparrow begins migration in late fall (around early November) and returns to Canada, Alaska, and the northwestern United States in early spring (around late March); thus, the best times to view it in Missouri would be between the months of late November and March.
10. White-Crowned Sparrow
Scientific Name: Zonotrichia leucophrys
Range: North America, Mexico
The white-crowned sparrow is a large sparrow with a long tail, plain gray underparts without streaks, and a bill that varies in color from yellow to pink. Adults have heads with black and white stripes, while juveniles are brown and tan.
The preferred habitats for the white-crowned sparrow include open forests with brushy areas, thickets, or conifers. During migration in the winter, they’ll often be found in any sort of brushy or weedy areas. They may also visit feeders on occasion.
The diet of the white-crowed sparrow typically includes seeds from weeds and grasses and insects such as caterpillars, wasps, and beetles. Grains and berries also make up part of their diet. They consume insects mainly during the summer months.
The white-crowned sparrow migrates from Alaska and arctic Canada down to the majority of the continental United States (including Missouri). Similar to other sparrows mentioned earlier, the white-crowned sparrow does this due to its need for warmer weather and a larger abundance of food.
The white-crowned sparrow begins its migration at the end of August or the beginning of September and will remain at its wintering sites from October to April the following year, after which it’ll return and arrive back to its breeding grounds in Alaska or northern Canada by May. Therefore, the best times to view it in Missouri would be between the months of October and April.
11. Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga coronata
Range: North and Central America, Occasionally in Iceland
The yellow-rumped warbler is a very common species of warbler, and consists of two populations across different regions: the Audubon’s and the Myrtle. Both have a bright yellow rump and yellow sides. Audubon’s often have a yellow throat, with juvenile females having white throats. The Myrtle warblers have a white throat that wraps around below the cheek.
Both subspecies breed in coniferous and mixed forests near clearings or edges. At other times of the year, they can often be found in woodland or open shrubby areas such as dunes, fields, parks, and other residential areas.
The yellow-rumped warbler often quickly goes from a perching position to a flying position to catch insects. They also consume berries during the winter.
The yellow-rumped warbler migrates from Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern United States to the southern and eastern United States, sometimes all the way to Central America. They winter, particularly in the southern half of Missouri. They do this mainly due to the decreasing availability of prey in their breeding grounds during the winter.
The yellow-rumped warbler migrates in October and returns to its breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and the northwestern United States by as early as March. Thus, the best times to view them in Missouri would be between the months of October and March.
12. Dark-Eyed Junco
Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis
Range: North America, Northern Mexico
The dark-eyed junco is a sparrow whose appearance varies in its different populations. They are generally gray-plumaged, with white and tan patterns, along with pink bills and white outer tail feathers. The juveniles are streaky. Subspecies of the dark-eyed junco include Slate-colored, Oregon, Pink-sided, Gray-headed, Red-backed, and White-winged.
The dark-eyed junco breeds in most forested habitats that include conifers. During the winter, they can be found in any wooded habitat. They can be found feeding in brushy thickets or weedy fields.
The diet of the dark-eyed junco mainly consists of seeds and insects. Half of the adults’ summer diet consists of insects, such as caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers. On the other hand, they’ll feed mainly on seeds of weeds and grasses during the winter.
The dark-eyed junco migrates from Canada and Alaska down to the Southern United States (including Missouri); however, those that breed in the west and near the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States don’t migrate at all. They do this to increase the abundance of prey during the winter.
The dark-eyed junco mainly migrates in October and will return to either Canada or Alaska in March or April. Despite this, the best times to view these birds in Missouri would probably be before March, preferably between October and February, as many of the males, in particular, will return early in order to secure the best breeding grounds.
13. Golden-crowned Kinglet
Scientific Name: Regulus satrapa
Range: North America, Occasionally in Mexico
The golden-crowned kinglet is a small songbird consisting of black stripes on the head, bold wing patterns, and a small stripe that can be extended into a larger orange-red crest (hence its name) when agitated.
The golden-crowned kinglet breeds in coniferous, boreal, or montane forests, typically high up in the treetops. During other times of the year, they can be found in a variety of wooded habitats.
Insects make up the majority of the golden-crowned kinglet’s diet. Some of these tiny insects include small beetles, gnats, caterpillars, and aphids. The bird is often very active and will hover (by quickly flicking its wings) while foraging for food.
The golden-crowned kinglet migrates from southern Canada down to nearly the entire continental United States (Missouri included). However, those in the Appalachians and the mountainous west tend to stay there for the entire year. They do this mainly due to a need for a larger abundance of insects.
The golden-crowned kinglet begins migration in October/November and returns to its breeding grounds in southern Canada by march/April. They tend to migrate later and return earlier than other birds, so be sure to keep a lookout between the months of November and March.
14. Winter Wren
Scientific Name: Troglodytes hiemalis
Range: Midwest and Eastern United States, South and Eastern Canada
The winter wren is a small wren with a short tail, plain-brown plumage, pale eyebrows, and gradual dark bars on the flanks and wings. Their patterns are difficult to see. Their tail is usually kept at an angle.
The winter wren can be found in a variety of forested habitats, especially those with wetter areas containing thick tangles around treefalls and moss. Examples include moist coniferous and mixed forests with old-growth forest traits such as downed logs, dead trees, and large trees.
The diet of the winter wren focuses mainly on insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and others. They may also consume spiders, millipedes, snails, and, occasionally, fish. They focus more of their diet on berries during fall and winter.
The winter wren migrates from central and southern Canada down to southeastern Canada and the eastern half of the United States (including Missouri). They may rarely migrate as far south as north-eastern Mexico. They do this to find more sustenance, either in milder climates or lower elevations.
The winter wren migrates late in the fall (around late October to early December) and returns to their breeding grounds in Canada early in the spring (around mid-March to early May of the following year). As such, your best chances to view them in Missouri will be between the months of November and March.
15. Cedar Waxwing
Scientific Name: Bombycilla cedrorum
Range: North and Central America
The cedar waxwing is a plump bird that consists of a sleek crest, a black mask, pale yellow coloration on the belly, and a yellow-tipped tail. Juveniles are paler than adults and have minor streaks on the breast and a less noticeable mask.
The cedar waxwing can be found in habitats such as open woodlands, orchards, and shrubby areas. During winter, their range is quite variable and can depend on the availability of fruit crops.
Cedar waxwings consume mainly berries and insects. Most of their diet throughout the year is composed of berries and other small fruit from sources such as juniper, dogwood, and wild cherries. They will also eat flowers and consume their sap. Insects, such as ants and beetles, are consumed on a larger basis during the summer.
Cedar waxwings migrate from southern and central Canada down to the central and southern United States (including Missouri). Some that live in the northern part of the United States don’t migrate at all. They do this mainly to find a place where they have a good source of berries, which can be difficult in Canada during the winter.
Cedar waxwings migrate rather late during the winter (around the months of February and March) and will return to their breeding grounds in Canada around May or early June. Hence, the best times to view them in Missouri would be between the months of March and May.
16. Pine Siskin
Scientific Name: Spinus pinus
Range: North America, Mexico
The pine siskin is a small finch that is brown-plumaged and has streaks running down its body. It has some shades of yellow running down its wings and tail, along with a sharp bill. Its notched tail is rather short, while its wings are long.
Typical habitats of the pine siskin include coniferous forests and mixed forests while breeding and different semi-open areas such as forest edges and weed fields during other times of the year. They may also visit feeders in areas with conifers.
Pine siskins consume mainly seeds and other vegetable matter, with occasional insects also part of their diet. Plants include the seeds of alder, birch, spruce, and other trees, along with weeds and grasses. They consume buds, flower parts, nectar, and young shoots. Insects include caterpillars and aphids.
Pine siskins migrate from central Canada and Alaska down to the majority of the United States, concentrating particularly in the Midwest (including Missouri) and the east of the country. They migrate due to a shortage of food (mainly cone crops) in their home range. However, as this isn’t the case every year, their migration is not as consistent as that of some other birds we’ve discussed.
Pine siskins have been observed migrating in early September and returning to their breeding grounds by late April the following year, however, because they are an irruptive species whose migration depends on the availability of food, it can be difficult to tell when they exactly migrate. Therefore, while you may be able to catch a glimpse of these birds in Missouri around the months between October and April, you shouldn’t keep your hopes up and expect them every year.
17. Rough-legged Buzzard
Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
Range: North America, Europe, Northernmost Asia
The rough-legged buzzard is a large raptor that is generally pale to brown in color. Light morphs have a dark belly and dark patches on their “wrists,” while dark morphs have a banded tail with white flight feathers. Some can appear as intermediates of the two.
The rough-legged buzzard breeds in northern tundra and moves to open field and grassland habitats during the winter.
The rough-legged buzzard is carnivorous and usually feeds on small mammals. Most of their prey involves lemmings or voles, but this depends on seasonal availability.
The rough-legged buzzard migrates from northern and arctic Canada and Alaska down to southern Canada and the central United States (including Missouri). It does this in order to look for a suitable habitat with an abundance of rodents for it to prey on.
The rough-legged buzzard typically begins its migration in late September to late October, arrives around the end of September, and will return to Canada and Alaska around early March to early May. Hence, your best chances of seeing this bird in Missouri would be between the months of October and March.
Overall, you can see that many bird species migrate to Missouri during the winter. Despite it being a rather northern state compared to states like Florida or Arizona, Missouri acts as a warm haven for many birds that typically spend their time in Canada or further north. Therefore, if you’re around the area, make sure to head out during the winter months to catch sight of some of the amazing birds we’ve looked at today.