The Bows for Birds program sponsored by Audubon has been encouraging winter hikers for three years, but I first learned about it this winter and took my first hike on January 1. The program welcomes hikers to 12 parks and natural areas in the St. Louis region for fresh air, a chance to win prizes, and a bit of bird education along the way.
Utilizing clues to a mystery bird and its whereabouts, hikers search for a bow and a wooden cutout of the bird in each location. Walkers who complete a scavenger hunt worksheet can submit it for a chance to win raffle prizes.
Places where the 12 birds and bows can be found include Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood, the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Jefferson Barracks, Laumeier and Tilles parks in south St. Louis County, Missouri Botanical Garden and Forest, Lafayette and Bellerive parks in St. Louis, St. Ferdinand Park in Florissant, Spanish Lake Park in north St. Louis County, and the Audubon Center in West Alton, near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Participants have until Feb. 5 to find the bows and birds and submit their scavenger hunt form. Those who find at least seven and email the information to email@example.com are entered in a drawing. The grand prize basket includes a $680 pair of binoculars, and other donated prizes include a Big Muddy River adventure, gift cards, bird feeders, St. Louis Cardinals tickets and more. Participants are also encouraged to share images on social media utilizing the hashtag #BowsForBirds23.
You can find all the details, the scavenger hunt form and clues for each park at riverlands.audubon.org. The prize drawing is scheduled for Feb. 10 during the organization’s Great Backyard Bird Count virtual training.
We went to the World Bird Sanctuary near Eureka. For more than 45 years the facility has served as a rehabilitation hospital for raptors and a showcase for many other avian co-inhabitants of our planet.
The birds—and the work that is being done with them—bring visitors from all over. A paved footpath leads past large enclosures that serve as homes of injured birds that have been rescued, but for many reasons can not be returned to the wild. The hiking trails are a bonus.
Located at 125 Bald Eagle Ridge Way, the bird recognized as our national symbol is an obvious star of the show. The bald eagle’s story of recovery in North America is symbolic of the work that goes on at the sanctuary. Once exploited and nearly extirpated, wild flocks are now a main winter attraction in our area along the Mississippi River.
Along the footpath you can observe birds from big emus to comparatively tiny sharp-shinned hawks with a menagerie in between. Owls, pelicans, pheasants, falcons, and others from our backyards and around the world watch you watching them, try to hide from prying eyes, and in some cases answer back to a visitor’s greeting.
Dozens of birds recovering from a variety of injuries and circumstances are available for viewing. The sanctuary and its hospital are home to about 270 different critters including eagles, hawks, parrots, vultures, reptiles, and other injured or endangered species.
The 305-acre property works cooperatively with the state Department of Natural Resources. Outreach programs have educated more than a million school children. The rehabilitation hospital has treated more than 21,000 injured birds, and the facility has connections for bird conservation on four continents.
An admission charge funds the work at the sanctuary. The cost is $8 for an individual, $12 for a vehicle with two or more people, or $20 for buses with 10 or more. Children ages 5 and under are admitted for free. The facility is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Other ways to support the birds include direct donations, memberships, guest experience events, volunteering and more. For additional information call 636-225-4390.
John Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine.