Bird Facts

Overview

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Photo of a male dickcissel clinging to some dried plant stalks.
The dickcissel is native to prairies but has adapted to a variety of agricultural habitats.
Noppadol Paothong

View birds in the field guide.

Most people know a bird when they see one. It has feathers, wings and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with special songs and calls.

Taxonomically, birds are a “class” of vertebrates. Other classes include the bony fishes, the amphibians, the reptiles and the mammals.

Birds are subdivided into orders, including groups like the ducks, geese and swans; the pheasants, grouse, turkey and quail; the pigeons and doves; the owls; the hummingbirds; the woodpeckers; and the songbirds, or perching birds.

About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 species have been recorded within our borders. There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world.

Birds are important to humans and nature

Bird-watching and bird-feeding are rewarding activities that engage one-fifth of the population. It’s a $25 billion industry that involves tourism, birdbaths, birdseed, binoculars and more.

As predators, birds control thousands of insect species—borers, beetles, caterpillars and more—many of which harm crops, gardens and trees or, like mosquitoes, transmit diseases.

Raptors and owls prey on mice and other rodents that can be destructive to human interests.

Game birds—turkey, quail, doves, ducks, geese and others—provide sport and food for humans and are part of the $22 billion hunting industry.

As grain-eaters and herbivores, birds can be agricultural pests. Birds that eat fish can be problems at fish hatcheries.

As poultry, domesticated birds provide income for farmers and food for our tables.

Turkey vultures clean dead animals from our roads and from natural habitats.

Humans cherish birds as pets. For millennia, falconry has used raptors for sport hunting. Pigeons deliver messages, and doves are released at weddings and other events.

Soft, insulating body feathers are used in down coats, pillows and comforters.

People used to make ink pens from the plumes of birds. Think of the many important books and historical documents that were written with feathers!

Birds have inspired humans for millennia. They serve as religious and national symbols. They represent beauty, song, flight and hope, while others—such as owls and vultures—have borne fearful connotations.

Drastic declines and extinctions caused by unregulated hunting of birds for meat and of egrets for plumes in women’s hats helped spur the conservation movement in the late 1800s.

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Photo of a pied-billed grebe nonbreeding form.
Pied-Billed Grebe
Small, brown, ducklike birds, pied-billed grebes have thick bills with a dark ring in summer; the ring fades in winter.

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Photograph of an American White Pelican swimming
American White Pelican Swimming

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Photograph of a Double-Crested Cormorant sitting with wings outstretched
Double-Crested Cormorant Sitting with Wings Outstretched

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Photo of a green heron
Green Heron
Most people see green herons as they forage in marshes and on the edges of tree-lined streams, ponds, and lakes.

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Photo of a turkey vulture in flight
Turkey Vulture Flying

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Photo of Canada goose swimming
Canada Goose Swimming

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Photo of male and female mallards walking on ice
Mallard Pair
Male and female mallard.

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Photo of redhead drake floating on water.
Redhead Male
The male redhead is an attractive and distinctive duck, with its chestnut-red head, black breast, and gray body.

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Photo of a bald eagle in flight
Bald Eagle
Bald eagles soar on wings held flat.This helps distinguish them from turkey vultures, which form a shallow V with their wings.

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Photo of a red-tailed hawk soaring
Red-Tailed Hawk Soaring
A key to identifying adult red-tailed hawks in flight is the rufous tail.

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Photo of a male greater prairie-chicken in courtship display
Greater Prairie-Chicken (Displaying Male)
With their numbers dwindling, greater prairie-chickens need strong conservation support.

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Photo of a Virginia rail walking on soggy-looking twigs.
Virginia Rail
Adult Virginia rails have a blackish back with rusty wing patches, gray face, and reddish bill and legs. The long bill is slightly curved.

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Photo of a killdeer standing on a chert gravel surface.
Killdeer
An adult killdeer is dark brown above and white below, with two black bands on the breast.

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Photo of a spotted sandpiper standing on a muddy shore, side view.
Spotted Sandpiper
The spotted sandpiper is known for its spotted breast, orange bill, and unique teetering, tail-bobbing gait.

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Photo of a ring-billed gull standing on a rock, water in background.
Ring-Billed Gull
The ring-billed gull is Missouri’s most common gull. Adults can be told from our other most common gulls by their yellow legs and yellow bill with a black ring near the tip.

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Photo of a greater roadrunner, side view
Greater Roadrunner
Greater roadrunner.

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Image of barred owl
Barred Owl
The barred owl is the only large, brown-streaked, dark-eyed owl in Missouri.

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Photo of an eastern whip-poor-will crouching on leaf litter.
Eastern Whip-Poor-Will
Although many people hear the evening calls of whip-poor-wills, few ever see them.

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Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

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Photo of male downy woodpecker clinging to suet feeder
Downy Woodpecker
Downy woodpeckers are common visitors to winter feeders.

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Photo of a great crested flycatcher, perched and singing
Great Crested Flycatcher Singing
Because great crested flycatchers often perch high in trees, learn their distinctive voice and listen for them.

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Photo of a perched loggerhead shrike
Loggerhead Shrike

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Photo of a red-eyed vireo perched on a small branch.
Red-Eyed Vireo
Singing an incessant series of question-and-answer homilies from dawn to dusk, even through the hottest of summer days, the red-eyed vireo has been called the “preacher bird.”

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Photo of a horned lark perched on a fencepost.
Horned Lark
Horned lark upperparts are sandy brown, with a thick black eye line that continues into a streak on the cheek. The black forehead and eyebrow line extends into short “horns” on the rear crown.

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Photo of a barn swallow in flight.
Barn Swallow
Swallows are amazingly agile fliers and catch flying insects on the wing.

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Photograph of a White-Breasted Nuthatch
White-Breasted Nuthatch

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Photo of a Carolina wren perched on a branch, feathers fluffed out.
Carolina Wren
Carolina wrens are small, but they survive Missouri winters. Birds, like mammals, are “warm-blooded.”

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Photo of a northern mockingbird perched on a snowy cluster of sumac berries.
Northern Mockingbird
In winter, northern mockingbirds defend certain fruit-bearing shrubs all winter, reserving them for their own food supply.

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Photo of a cedar waxwing perched on a branch.
Cedar Waxwing
With their smooth gray, brown, yellow, and white, plus black, red, and yellow accents, waxwings are a joy to watch.

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Hooded Warbler
Hooded Warbler
The hooded warbler is among the birds seen in spring at Weston Bend State Park.

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Photo of a male summer tanager, perched on a small branch, singing
Summer Tanager Singing Male
The rich, lazy song of the summer tanager is about 2 to 4 seconds long. It is a melodious, slurred, robinlike series, usually with a few "prit-ti-voy" phrases within it.

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Photo of an eastern towhee male, side view, eating birdseed on a rock.
Eastern Towhee (Male)
Male eastern towhees are black above. Underparts are white, with rusty sides and flanks.

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Image of a white-crowned sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow

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Photo of male northern cardinal
Northern Cardinal (Male)

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Photo of a male blue grosbeak, singing
Blue Grosbeak Singing
Blue grosbeaks often sing from prominent perches. The song is a melodious series of guttural or burry warbles that rise and fall in pitch.

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Photo of an eastern meadowlark, side view, on snowy ground.
Eastern Meadowlark
Meadowlarks are stout, stocky birds with short tails, rounded wings, and long, sharp bills.

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Photo of a male red-winged blackbird singing
Red-Winged Blackbird (Male)
Male red-winged blackbirds are all black, with a bright red shoulder patch bordered with yellow.

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Photo of male Baltimore oriole perched on branch
Baltimore Oriole Male
Male Baltimore oriole.

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Photograph of a male Purple Finch
Purple Finch (Male)
In the 1930s, Roger Tory Peterson said the male purple finch looked like “a Sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.” They are really not purple at all.

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Photograph of a male American Goldfinch in breeding plumage
American Goldfinch (Male in Breeding Plumage)

In This Section

Facts About Missouri's Owls

Of the 18 owl species native to North America, eight live in Missouri or visit here. Learn what you can do to help them survive in our state.

Missouri's Bluebirds

Learn to identify, cultivate and monitor Missouri's beautiful state bird.

Missouri's Purple Martins (pdf, 318 KB)

Learn about purple martins and how to make different kinds of purple martin houses.