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19 White Birds in Missouri

white birds in missouri
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Missouri: Photo by Matt Zuro

Introduction

Missouri’s varied landscapes provide sanctuary to a plethora of avian species, among them, a collection of mesmerizing white-feathered birds. From the graceful gliding of swans to the elegant plumage of herons, these birds add an ethereal charm to Missouri’s natural habitats. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the enchanting world of white birds in Missouri, exploring their unique features, behavior, favored locations, and their significance to the ecosystem.

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

  • Features: The Snow Goose boasts pristine white plumage accentuated by contrasting black wingtips. Its distinctive pink bill, adorned with a black “grin patch,” adds a touch of charm to its appearance.
  • Behavior: Snow Geese are highly social birds, often congregating in large flocks during migration. Their synchronized flights and melodious calls create a mesmerizing spectacle in the skies above Missouri.
  • Locations: During migration, Snow Geese can be spotted in various habitats across Missouri, including wetlands, agricultural fields, and lakeshores, where they forage for aquatic plants and grains.
  • Fun Fact: Snow Geese undertake one of the longest migrations of any waterfowl species, traveling thousands of miles between their breeding grounds in the Arctic and their wintering areas in the southern United States.

Ross’s Goose (Anser rossii)

  • Features: Resembling the Snow Goose, albeit smaller, Ross’s Goose sports a stubbier bill and lacks the characteristic “grin patch” seen in its larger relative.
  • Behavior: Ross’s Geese exhibit similar social behavior to Snow Geese, forming large flocks during migration. Their synchronized movements and vocalizations contribute to the harmony of Missouri’s wetland habitats.
  • Locations: Ross’s Geese share similar habitats to Snow Geese, favoring wetlands, agricultural fields, and lakeshores during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Ross’s Geese have experienced population growth in recent years, a testament to successful conservation efforts and the availability of suitable habitat across their range.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

  • Features: The Mute Swan is renowned for its majestic presence, boasting a long, S-shaped neck, and a vibrant orange bill topped with a distinctive black knob.
  • Behavior: Mute Swans are often observed gliding gracefully across the water, their elegant movements reflecting their regal demeanor. During courtship displays, they engage in synchronized swimming and intricate head-bobbing rituals.
  • Locations: Mute Swans can be found in various aquatic habitats across Missouri, including lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers, where they feed on aquatic vegetation and small invertebrates.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, Mute Swans are not entirely silent. They produce a range of vocalizations, including hisses, grunts, and trumpet-like calls, especially during territorial disputes or interactions with their young.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

  • Features: North America’s largest waterfowl species, the Trumpeter Swan, is distinguished by its imposing size, entirely white plumage, and a prominent black bill.
  • Behavior: Trumpeter Swans are known for their deep, resonant calls, often likened to the sound of a trumpet. During courtship, pairs engage in elaborate displays, including synchronized swimming and mutual preening.
  • Locations: Once rare in Missouri, Trumpeter Swans have made a comeback thanks to successful reintroduction efforts. They can now be found in wetland areas and reservoirs, where they breed and raise their young.
  • Fun Fact: Trumpeter Swans were on the brink of extinction in the early 20th century due to overhunting and habitat loss. Conservation efforts have helped revive their populations, showcasing the power of dedicated conservation initiatives.

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

  • Features: Slightly smaller than the Trumpeter Swan, the Tundra Swan sports a black bill with a yellow spot at the base, adding a splash of color to its otherwise pristine white plumage.
  • Behavior: Tundra Swans are renowned for their long-distance migrations, undertaking arduous journeys between their Arctic breeding grounds and their wintering areas in the southern United States. During migration, they form impressive V-shaped formations as they traverse the skies above Missouri.
  • Locations: During migration, Tundra Swans can be found in Missouri’s wetlands and lakeshores, where they rest and refuel before continuing their journey southward.
  • Fun Fact: Tundra Swans undertake one of the longest migrations of any waterfowl species, covering thousands of miles each year. Despite the challenges they face along their journey, they persevere, showcasing the remarkable resilience of migratory birds.

Black-necked/White-backed Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

  • Features: The Black-necked Stilt is a striking shorebird adorned with black-and-white plumage, long pink legs, and a slender black bill perfectly suited for probing in the mud.
  • Behavior: Black-necked Stilts are adept waders, effortlessly navigating the shallow waters of Missouri’s wetlands and marshes in search of aquatic insects and crustaceans. Their distinctive high-stepping walk and 
  • Locations: Black-necked Stilts can be found in shallow wetlands, marshes, and mudflats across Missouri, where they forage for food and build their nests in close proximity to water.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their delicate appearance, Black-necked Stilts are fiercely territorial, often engaging in aerial displays and vocalizations to defend their nesting territories from intruders. Their dedication to nesting site defense ensures the survival of their offspring in the competitive wetland environment.

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

  • Features: Bonaparte’s Gull is a small, graceful gull with a white body, gray wings, and distinctive black wingtips. During the breeding season, adults develop a black hood on their heads.
  • Behavior: Bonaparte’s Gulls are often found foraging in coastal habitats, where they feed on small fish, crustaceans, and insects. They are agile fliers and skilled at catching prey on the wing.
  • Locations: During migration, Bonaparte’s Gulls can be spotted in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: Bonaparte’s Gulls are one of the few gull species that regularly nest in trees. They build their nests in coniferous trees near water, where they lay their eggs on a platform made of sticks and vegetation.

Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

  • Features: Franklin’s Gull displays a distinctive black hood during the breeding season, which contrasts with its white head and underparts. Outside of the breeding season, it loses its hood and adopts a more subdued appearance.
  • Behavior: Franklin’s Gulls are highly social birds, often congregating in large flocks during migration and wintering periods. They are opportunistic feeders, scavenging for food in agricultural fields, wetlands, and coastal areas.
  • Locations: During migration, Franklin’s Gulls can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: Franklin’s Gulls have a unique breeding strategy known as “piracy,” where they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, such as American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts, allowing them to benefit from the protection provided by these larger birds.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

  • Features: The Ring-billed Gull is named for the black ring or band encircling its yellow bill. It has a white body, gray wings, and distinctive black wingtips with white spots.
  • Behavior: Ring-billed Gulls are adaptable birds that can be found in a wide range of habitats, including lakes, rivers, coastal areas, and urban environments. They are opportunistic feeders, scavenging for food in a variety of settings.
  • Locations: Ring-billed Gulls are common throughout Missouri, particularly in urban areas with access to food sources such as landfills, parking lots, and sewage treatment plants.
  • Fun Fact: Ring-billed Gulls are known for their intelligence and resourcefulness. They have been observed using tools, such as pebbles, to crack open shells and access the food inside.

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

  • Features: The American Herring Gull is a large, robust gull with a gray back and wings, white head and underparts, and pink legs. It has a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip.
  • Behavior: American Herring Gulls are opportunistic feeders that consume a wide variety of prey, including fish, invertebrates, and carrion. They are often seen scavenging for food in coastal habitats and urban environments.
  • Locations: American Herring Gulls can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: American Herring Gulls are long-lived birds that can survive for several decades in the wild. The oldest recorded American Herring Gull lived to be over 30 years old.

Least Tern (Sternula antillarum)

  • Features: The Least Tern is North America’s smallest tern species, characterized by a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black cap on its head during the breeding season. It has a yellow bill and legs.
  • Behavior: Least Terns are highly specialized aerial hunters, often seen diving headfirst into the water to catch small fish near the surface. They nest in colonies on sandy beaches and riverbanks, where they lay their eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand.
  • Locations: In Missouri, Least Terns can be found along rivers, lakeshores, and sandy beaches during the breeding season. They migrate to coastal areas in the winter months.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their small size, Least Terns are fearless defenders of their nests and will aggressively mob larger birds or predators that approach their breeding colonies, including humans.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

  • Features: The Caspian Tern is a large, powerful bird with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black cap on its head. It has a large red bill and long, slender wings.
  • Behavior: Caspian Terns are skilled hunters, often seen diving from high above the water to catch fish with their sharp, pointed bills. They nest in colonies on sandy beaches, islands, and coastal marshes.
  • Locations: Caspian Terns can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. They are more common during the breeding season but may also be observed during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Caspian Terns are known for their spectacular courtship displays, which involve aerial acrobatics and vocalizations. Males will perform elaborate flight maneuvers to attract females to potential nesting sites.

Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)

  • Features: Forster’s Tern is a medium-sized tern species with a white body, gray wings, and a distinctive black cap on its head during the breeding season. It has a slender, pointed bill and long, slender wings.
  • Behavior: Forster’s Terns are agile flyers and skilled hunters, often seen hovering over the water before diving to catch fish with their sharp bills. They nest in colonies on marshy islands and coastal wetlands.
  • Locations: Forster’s Terns can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. They are more common during the breeding season but may also be observed during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Forster’s Terns are known for their unique fishing behavior called “plunge-diving,” where they dive headfirst into the water from a height to catch fish. They can adjust the angle and speed of their dives to maximize their hunting success.

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

  • Features: The American White Pelican is a large, majestic bird with a white body, black flight feathers, and a distinctive orange bill with a pouch. During the breeding season, it develops a pronounced bump on its upper bill.
  • Behavior: American White Pelicans are highly social birds that often forage and roost in large groups. They are primarily fish-eaters, using their large bills and expandable throat pouches to scoop up prey from the water.
  • Locations: American White Pelicans can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including lakes, rivers, and marshes. They are more common during the breeding season but may also be observed during migration.
  • Fun Fact: American White Pelicans engage in cooperative hunting behavior known as “corral feeding,” where they work together to herd fish into shallow waters before scooping them up in unison. This cooperative strategy allows them to catch more prey than they could individually.

Little Blue Heron – Juvenile (Egretta caerulea)

  • Features: The Little Blue Heron is a medium-sized heron with a slate-blue body, purplish head and neck, and a long, slender bill. Juvenile birds are white with mottled blue-gray plumage.
  • Behavior: Little Blue Herons are solitary hunters, often seen wading slowly through shallow waters in search of fish, frogs, and crustaceans. They use their sharp bills to spear their prey with precision.
  • Locations: Little Blue Herons can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including marshes, swamps, and wetlands. They are often observed foraging along the edges of lakes, rivers, and streams.
  • Fun Fact: Little Blue Herons undergo a dramatic change in plumage as they mature. Juvenile birds are entirely white, gradually acquiring their characteristic blue-gray plumage over the course of two years.

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

  • Features: The Snowy Egret is a small, elegant heron with entirely white plumage, a slender black bill, and distinctive yellow feet. During the breeding season, it develops long, wispy plumes on its head, neck, and back.
  • Behavior: Snowy Egrets are skilled hunters, often seen stalking their prey in shallow waters or standing motionless waiting for fish to come within striking distance. They use their sharp bills to spear their prey with lightning-fast precision.
  • Locations: Snowy Egrets can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including marshes, swamps, and estuaries. They are often observed foraging along the edges of lakes, rivers, and tidal flats.
  • Fun Fact: Snowy Egrets are known for their distinctive hunting behavior called “foot stirring,” where they use their bright yellow feet to disturb the water and flush out hidden prey. This technique allows them to locate prey more efficiently in murky waters.

Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

  • Features: The Western Cattle Egret is a medium-sized heron with entirely white plumage, a yellow bill, and yellow legs. During the breeding season, it develops orange or buff-colored plumes on its head, neck, and back.
  • Behavior: Western Cattle Egrets are often seen foraging in close association with livestock, where they catch insects stirred up by grazing cattle and other large animals. They are opportunistic feeders, also consuming small fish, frogs, and crustaceans.
  • Locations: Western Cattle Egrets can be found in various habitats in Missouri, including pastures, agricultural fields, wetlands, and coastal areas. They are often observed foraging alongside cattle, horses, and other livestock.
  • Fun Fact: Western Cattle Egrets are native to Africa but have successfully colonized much of the world, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. They are often considered a nuisance species in agricultural areas but play a beneficial role in controlling insect pests.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

  • Features: The Great Egret is a large, majestic heron with entirely white plumage, a long, S-shaped neck, and a dagger-like yellow bill. During the breeding season, it develops long, delicate plumes on its head, neck, and back.
  • Behavior: Great Egrets are skilled hunters, often seen standing motionless in shallow waters or slowly stalking their prey through marshes and wetlands. They use their sharp bills to spear fish, frogs, and other small animals with precision.
  • Locations: Great Egrets can be found in various aquatic habitats in Missouri, including marshes, swamps, lakes, and rivers. They are often observed foraging along the edges of water bodies or perched in trees overlooking their hunting grounds.
  • Fun Fact: The Great Egret was nearly driven to extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to plume hunting for the fashion industry. However, conservation efforts and the enactment of protective laws have allowed their populations to recover significantly.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)

  • Features: The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a striking bird with a long, deeply forked tail that gives it its name. It has pale gray upperparts, white underparts, and salmon-pink flanks. During the breeding season, males display their distinctive tails in elaborate aerial courtship displays.
  • Behavior: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are highly aerial birds, often seen perched on exposed branches or wires, where they scan for flying insects. They are skilled flycatchers, capable of capturing prey in mid-air with swift, acrobatic maneuvers.
  • Locations: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are primarily found in open habitats such as grasslands, pastures, and agricultural fields in Missouri. They are most common during the breeding season when they arrive from their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America.
  • Fun Fact: The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is the state bird of Oklahoma, where it is commonly seen nesting and breeding in open landscapes. Its distinctive appearance and graceful aerial displays make it a favorite among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss and fragmentation pose significant threats to many of Missouri’s white bird species, particularly those that rely on wetlands, marshes, and coastal habitats for breeding and foraging. Urban development, agriculture, and land conversion for infrastructure projects continue to degrade and diminish critical habitat areas.

Additionally, pollution, water contamination, and invasive species introduction further exacerbate these threats, affecting water quality and prey availability for white bird species. Climate change also presents challenges, altering precipitation patterns, sea levels, and temperatures, which can impact nesting success, migration timing, and food availability.

Conservation efforts aimed at protecting and restoring key habitat areas, implementing sustainable land management practices, and mitigating human-wildlife conflicts are essential for the long-term survival of Missouri’s white bird species. Collaborative initiatives involving government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities are crucial for addressing these complex conservation challenges.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Missouri residents and bird enthusiasts can contribute to the conservation of white bird species through various citizen science initiatives:

1. Participating in bird monitoring programs such as eBird to record sightings of white birds in Missouri and contribute to scientific research on their distribution and abundance.

2. Volunteering for habitat restoration projects aimed at improving wetland, marsh, and coastal habitats for white bird species.

3. Supporting conservation organizations and advocacy groups working to protect and conserve critical habitat areas for white bird species.

4. Educating others about the importance of preserving natural habitats and minimizing human impacts on white bird populations through outreach and awareness campaigns.

By actively engaging in citizen science and conservation efforts, individuals can play a vital role in safeguarding Missouri’s diverse white bird species for future generations to enjoy.

Conclusion

Missouri is home to a diverse array of white bird species, ranging from graceful waterfowl and elegant wading birds to agile aerial hunters and charismatic songbirds. These birds play important ecological roles, contributing to ecosystem health, biodiversity, and aesthetic value.

However, white bird species face numerous threats, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and human disturbance, which jeopardize their survival and well-being. It is imperative that we take action to protect and conserve these species and their habitats to ensure their long-term viability and persistence in the wild.

Through collaborative conservation efforts, citizen science initiatives, and public awareness campaigns, we can work together to safeguard Missouri’s white bird species and preserve the natural heritage of our state for generations to come.