Written by William Rowe, a volunteer for the St. Louis Audubon Society
Of the many kinds of wildlife that may inhabit an urban landscape, the most obvious are the birds. Yes, there are exceptions, like squirrels, but on the whole, if you are walking around an urban greenspace and trying to observe animal life, it’s birds that will make up most of your list. They are generally the most visible—their only competitors being some warm-weather insects such as butterflies—and they are also audible, with most of them having distinctive songs and/or call-notes. Just as in the countryside, some birds remain through the year, but more of them are tied to certain seasons. Consider what you could see on the Arch grounds as you walk from one end to the other:
Permanent resident birds are those that could be seen in any month of the year. They probably nest in or near the grounds in spring and summer, and then they stick around locally the rest of the year, when they are not busy nesting. This might include waterfowl like Canada Geese and Mallards, raptors like Peregrine Falcons (which live on tall buildings downtown), common birds of trees and shrubs like Mourning Doves, Robins, Blue Jays, Northern Mockingbirds, House Finches, and Northern Cardinals, or the few abundant but non-native, imported species: Rock Pigeons, European Starlings, and House Sparrows.
Summer resident birds arrive in the spring, nest here, and take off again in the fall to head south for the winter. These could include Chimney Swifts and Barn Swallows overhead, Eastern Wood-Pewees and Warbling Vireos in the shade trees, Brown Thrashers in thickets, and Red-winged Blackbirds down near the river.
Winter resident birds arrive in fall, can be here at any point in the colder months, and leave again the spring to head north for nesting rather than staying the St. Louis area. Examples are the Ring-billed Gull over the Mississippi and some small birds of lawns and shrubbery, especially sparrows like the Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow.
Migrants and visitors are by far the largest category. Some of these occur only in the spring and fall, as they breed far to our north (or in some cases out in the Missouri countryside but not in the city) and winter far to our south. The warblers are a prime example, with 27 species recorded on the Arch grounds but nearly all in April and May, as they stop over on their migration to feed on insects or berries and to rest a bit. Similarly, migration is the time to see a wide variety of sparrows, thrushes, tanagers, orioles, kinglets, vireos, flycatchers, and much more. A different case would be that of the waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and raptors that wander by from time to time out on the river itself, or pause on the grounds, or wing their way overhead, like Snow Geese, Killdeer, Great Egrets—or even a Bald Eagle.
Altogether, 142 species of birds have been recorded on the Arch grounds by visitors who entered their observations in eBird, a vast database used by birders all over the world. More will undoubtedly be added year by year. And anyone who wishes to visit other urban greenspaces that serve as islands of habitat for birds (and other wildlife) would do well to try Forest Park, Tower Grove Park, Carondelet Park, and other smaller tracts in the St. Louis City park network. For additional information, and a listing of many good sites outside the City, consult the St. Louis Audubon Society at stlouisaudubon.org.
Last updated: December 13, 2021