Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Trumpeter Swans Landing by Gail Miller

Trumpeter Swans Landing by Gail Miller

Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (RMBS) is about 2 miles upstream of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The sanctuary, just 40 minutes north of St. Louis, is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property located at Lock and Dam #26. Most of the wetland habitat of RMBS is in Missouri (West Alton) though birds use adjacent habitat on the other side of the Mississippi River in Illinois (Alton). There is a warm-water outlet upstream at a power plant that enables the birds to overnight in extreme weather. Most years at least a small pool stays open in Ellis Bay for the birds.

Trumpeter Swans arrive at the end of October in small family groups of three to six. Upon arrival, Trumpeters fly low over the marshes, calling back and forth, before settling. Through mid-December, groups continue to arrive, some to stay the winter, others to rest before moving farther and farther south.

In 1999, the RMBS winter population was about 30 birds. A decade later, in the winter of 2008-2009, the mid-December high count, when winter residents and migrants are present, was 560. This past winter (2009-2010), the RMBS wintering flock was estimated at 440.

Staff and volunteers of RMBS record the band numbers, tally daily counts, and record mortality, which occurs mainly from power line collisions, high lead levels, and illegal shooting. Between 2002 and 2008, an impressive total of 72 collared birds was noted. Most of the birds are from the Wisconsin population with collared birds from Iowa and Ohio recorded as well. Hatch-year birds comprise 20 percent of the total.

RMBS is internationally recognized as part of the Great Rivers Confluence Important Bird Area. There are local bird walks on most weekends, and organized Bald Eagle watches are conducted during the peak numbers in January and February. The large size of the Trumpeters, and their relative tameness, make them a subject of many photographers. An astute observer will find 10 to 20 Tundra Swans among the birds, and the occasional Mute Swan.

Riverland’s bird list is 300+, including several state firsts: Ross’ Gull, Slaty-back Gull, Black Skimmer, Smew. 18 species of gulls are on the area list. During the winter the sonorous bass of the Trumpeters provides a counterpoint to the raucous calls of the gulls. Each day, and every movement, begins with head bobbing and calling. When the area is frozen, the birds will sleep until well after sunrise, but, as the days warm, they are up and about at daybreak. By mid-February, the swans begin to move north and the marshes again go silent.

Article contributed by David Rogles, President, St. Louis Audubon Society
and State Compiler,  North American Migration Count.


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8 Responses to “Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary”

  1. Dan Pettus Says:

    I saw about 30 trumpeter swans in a flooded field near the intersection of I270 and Hwy 157 near Glen Carbon yesterday! Thought you all might want to know

    • trumpeterswansociety Says:

      Just checking what your county is Dan, I’ll add this record to our winter notes for 2010. Thank you! Please let us know if they stay around or seemed to be just passing through. Peg Abbott

  2. Dan Pettus Says:

    I’m in Madison County. They were likely just passing through on their way to Riverlands in West Alton. I only saw them one day.

  3. Bill Matthews Says:

    Trumpeters have dispersed somewhat from Riverlands, many can be seen
    on north side of (north)bank of missouri river in same general area,along levee.Another group (30+) can be found at Columbia bottoms conservation area.Years past, have seen small groups at dresser island conservation,
    area.This season,with increased hunting pressure (ducks,geese) and illegal activity, none to date. This particular area is of great concern to me.
    Based on personal observation from 12/05/2010 to 01/05/2011

  4. marian jackson Says:

    i saw the article on the trumpet swans in the mo. conservationist and would like to see them in the next week or so when this snow leaves. can you tell me the best place and how to get there. i live south of springfield. i know how to get to the area but where to go when i get there. any info. will help. thanks marian

  5. Bill Matthews Says:

    Hi Marion,Day to day location of trumpeters is very dynamic and hard to
    project a specific spot.At Riverlands when you first enter from U.S.67
    and are driving east,if your able to look to your left(north) you’ll see
    ellis slough.Most have been congregating there for a safe haven for
    sleep.During midday,many are distributed over very large area and best
    source of info would be at visitors center at riverlands within corps of engineers complex.Its very hard to project on a day to day basis but
    if your at riverlands early in morning or in afternoon about an hour before
    sunset,you’ll be “dazzled” Im sure.Another good location is Columbia bottoms
    Conservation area,managed by Mo.Dept of Conservation.Plenty of info on
    web if you search by that name.Confluence of mississippi and missouri rivers
    is within area,has much historical significance in its own.Have seen(counted)
    79 trumps there,with others too far away to get a ‘handle’ on.Also has visitor
    center open Wed thru Sun. Good place for immediate info for birds within area
    and nice history exhibit in addition.
    Best Regards,

  6. Maureen Says:

    Is it too late to see the trumpeter swans this year?

    • trumpeterswansociety Says:

      I was at Riverlands in early March and they had gone north over the weeks previous. So at this location it is late, look for them to return next fall, late November or so. Numbers were excellent this year, and the new viewing area at the Visitor’s Center will be great as a place to view from. Thanks for checking in with us. Peg Abbott, TTSS

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