Winter Temps Provide Chance to See New Wildlife Across Missouri

The Department of the Interior has named the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, Missouri, as one of the top 20 public lands to explore this winter. Known as a major bird refuge the site also hosts large otter populations. “One of nature’s most social and playful creatures, river otters have big personalities and even bigger appetites. Often seen in groups, they can be observed hunting and frolicking year-round at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. In winter, you might even catch otters sliding across the ice on their bellies. Fur and friendship keep them warm.” Learn more at https://www.doi.gov/blog/20-public-lands-explore-this-winter.

Eagle Days returns to Smithville Lake Jan. 6-7
Free event by MDC and conservation partners includes raptors and exhibits

A mature bald eagle is a big bird, one impressive to view in flight or perched upon a tree limb. The free 23rd Annual Eagle Days at Smithville Lake will offer visitors a chance to view wild eagles and rehabilitated captive raptors Jan. 6-7 at the Paradise Pointe Golf Course Clubhouse, 18212 Golf Course Drive, in Little Platte Park at the lake at Smithville.

Weather dictates where eagles and waterfowl use the lake and where people can watch them. Last year, eagles were feeding on fish in the spillway below the lake dam, where the Little Platte River is once again free flowing. During some years, eagles are seen at other lake locations where waterfowl congregate, especially geese. A bitter cold freeze up of the lake can send eagles and waterfowl south, but in most years, both are seen by visitors.

Eagle Days is hosted by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clay County Parks and Recreation, and private conservation groups. Staff from host agencies will scout the lake ahead of the event and set up spotting scopes at locations where eagles are feeding or roosting. Outdoor viewing locations will be announced at the clubhouse.

The free event will also include wildlife watching indoors and close up at the Paradise Pointe Clubhouse. Operation Wildlife will display raptors, a show that often includes eagles. Friends of the Lakeside Nature Center will display some rehabilitated raptors, such as small owls. The Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary of Liberty, Wings of Love, and Clay County Parks will also present nature displays.
Outdoor eagle viewing and indoor activities at the clubhouse will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 6, and from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 7.

Attendees are encouraged to bring cameras, binoculars, spotting scopes, and warm clothes. Refreshments will be on sale at the clubhouse. For information about Smithville Lake Eagle Days, call 816-532-0174.

For information about viewing bald eagles at other locations and at MDC events, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZJA.

Snowy owls from Arctic making a winter visit to Missouri
Food shortage has pushed residents of northern clime southward

Missouri birders are getting a winter treat. Snowy owls are being spotted in the state and throughout the Midwest. But the visit from this owl species from the Arctic is not good news for the birds, as likely a food shortage in their natural habitat has pushed them farther south than usual, experts say.

“This is an irruption likely tied to a drop in the lemming population in the Arctic this summer and fall,” said Mark Robbins, an ornithologist at the University of Kansas who also works with Audubon Christmas Bird Counts in Missouri.

The maps on eBird, a cooperative online effort by birders and researchers to track sightings for all species, shows several snowy owls have been seen across north Missouri and a few in central and southern Missouri. Snowy owls are among the largest owls and named for their white coloration. Adult males are mostly white. Females and younger owls can have black barring as well as white. Snowy owls can have wingspans topping four feet. Harry Potter’s owl was a snowy owl.

A male snowy owl arrived at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary near the Mississippi River north of St. Louis on Nov. 9, said Ken Buchholz, director for the Audubon Center at Riverlands. A female appeared during the Thanksgiving holiday week. A snowy owl was spotted at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge on the western side of the state in recent weeks.

Snowy owls last appeared in Missouri and Kansas in noticeable numbers during the winter of 2011-2012. The majority of those where age could be determined were young birds, according to a scientific paper on the irruption that Robbins helped compile. In the 2011-2012 irruption, experts found and examined some owls that died. Most owls examined were emaciated, suggesting they were having difficulty finding prey for food in unfamiliar habitat.

People are urged to minimize disturbance of the snowy owls, as they are already stressed due to food shortage in their normal winter habitat.

These tundra dwellers normally feed on lemmings, ptarmingan, and waterfowl. They especially rely on lemmings. When lemming populations are high, snowy owl populations rise. The owls move south when lemming populations crash. In Missouri, they prefer grasslands as habitat and may eat rodents, rabbits, squirrels, waterfowl, and other birds.

For information about owl sightings and birding, visit eBird at http://ebird.org.

To learn more about snowy owls and their visits to Missouri, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZSU.

Content for this post provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Sources:
Missouri Department of Conservation
[Website]
U.S. Department of the Interior [Website]
Otter image:  Department of Interior Blog. Photographer: Kenny Bahr
Eagle and Snow Owl image: Missouri Department of Conservation