Spotlight: Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the Mississippi Flyway near Saint Louis
"Everyone wants to understand painting. Why is there no attempt to understand the song of the birds?" - Pablo Picasso
What You’ll Find
Near the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers the Audubon Center at Riverlands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary together protect an internationally significant point along the Mississippi Flyway, one of the most important migratory bird flyways in the world. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ unique partnership with the National Audubon Society is just one example of the Army Corps’ commitment to sustainable water resource development.
Learn about the 3,700-acre Sanctuary in the video Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary: A Spectacle of Birds.
The Audubon Center at Riverlands and the Sanctuary are 40 minutes from downtown St. Louis in West Alton, Missouri. Visit Audubon’s website for hours, directions and general information.
The Audubon Center at Riverlands offers interactive exhibits, a picnic area and a wrap-around deck for bird viewing. Sightings of the extremely rare Eurasian Tree Sparrow and other species draw birders from around the world. You can enter any species you see at the Ebird tracker kiosk provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (or check recent bird sightings at Ebird online). The sanctuary also offers 8.5 miles of hiking trails.
About 7 miles upriver, you can rent a canoe or kayak in the village of Godfrey. When the Corps closes the Melvin Price Lock and Dam, the river current calms dramatically, allowing even novice paddlers to experience the river and view birds and other animals. You can also rent a bicycle and pedal the picturesque Sam Vadalabene Trail which follows the Great River Road Scenic Byway on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. This beautiful trail hugs the edge of the river and up into the bluffs and provides a great link for strong bicyclists to travel between destinations. To reach the Riverlands Sanctuary from the Sam Vadalabene, leave the trail at Alton and cross the Clark Bridge.
The Sanctuary offers weekly “Wings of Spring” International Migratory Bird Day observances throughout April and May. Check the Audubon Center’s events page. Read our Spotlight article on International Migratory Bird Day.
The Great Rivers National Museum is hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and located on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. The museum offers 20 interactive exhibits highlighting the area’s natural and cultural resources as well as guided tours of the Melvin Price Lock and Dam. Try your hand as a riverboat captain with the museum’s Pilot House, a simulator based on software used to train river pilots.
Find campsites, cabins or lodging in the Pere Marquette Lodge at Pere Marquette State Park, an 8,000-acre nature-lovers’ paradise in Grafton, Illinois, 20 miles upstream from the Riverlands Sanctuary. The park is located at the northern end of the Sam Vadalabene Trail (described above), making it an ideal starting point for bicyclists and birders alike. Visit All Around Alton Illinois for more options.
Did You Know?
Dozens of endangered Least Terns fledge from here each year thanks to the Corps of Engineers’ scuttled barge, converted to safe nesting habitat.
Watch the Corps of Engineers’ video Interior Least Tern Floating Habitat Project: