With 3,700 acres of diverse floodplain habitat at the heart of the Mississippi Flyway, it’s no wonder the Riverland Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a perennial Midwest birding hotspot! Each season offers spectacular opportunities to see an ever-changing variety of 300 species of birds that live or migrate throughout the Sanctuary.
Riverlands features 8.5 miles of trails, a viewing platform and a uniquely designed Avian Observatory overlooking Heron Pond providing access to a variety of habitats. Trails are generally flat and well established. The trails on Ellis Island provides access to the main stem of the Mississippi River. The diversity of habitat is excellent, so make sure to carry binoculars and field guide at all times.
Ample parking, bird checklists, trail maps, a list of recent sightings, and knowledgeable staff and volunteers are found at the Audubon Center. Several scopes are available to view birds on Ellis Bay and Ellis Island from the Center, a welcome relief during inclement weather. Visitors will also find interesting exhibits on birds, other wildlife, and river ecology.
Tundra Swans, Greater White-fronted Geese and numerous other waterfowl can often be viewed nestled among one of the largest population of wintering Trumpeter Swans in the interior U.S. Dozens of Bald Eagles perch on Ellis Island and American White Pelicans fishing Ellis Bay is a common sight. Gulls fill the sky around Melvin Price Lock & Dam, while nearly every species of duck can be seen in and around Ellis Bay. Peregrine Falcons are often sighted on the Clark Bridge as Northern Harriers and American Kestrels glide and hover over the prairie marsh.
Bottomland woodlands, marshes, mudflats and pools provide excellent opportunities to view marsh birds, wading birds and waterfowl. As a critical stopover for shorebirds during fall and spring migrations, Riverlands provides ample opportunity to see avocets, godwits, dowitchers, plovers, sandpipers, snipes, stilts and more! Eurasian Tree Sparrows are commonly seen around the immediate vicinity of the Center.
Birding by Season on the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Winter: Gulls, swans, and birds of prey, such as the Bald Eagle, are plentiful. Bald Eagles and Trumpeter Swans attract hundreds of visitors, who will be delighted at the spectacle of bird they can view from the Audubon Center’s warm confines.
Spring: Waterbirds are found here in spring as well as winter. Terns, bitterns and rails are also common, and many songbirds return.
Summer: Many wading birds arrive in summer. This is also a good time to see birds that don’t migrate farther north but prefer to stay in the Sanctuary during the summer months.
Fall: Autumn marks the beginning of a busy migration season. Shorebirds are among the first to travel through the Sanctuary on their way south. Raptors, waterfowl, and other birds migrate later.