Wildlife & Habitat

Migrating Birds

Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge covers 3,750 acres of Mississippi River floodplain and was established to provide a feeding and resting area for migratory birds.  Nearly 300 species of birds visit the refuge during their journeys.  Click here to view a list of these birds.

  • King rail

    King rail

    The occasional adult king rail can be spotted foraging around the shallow waters of the refuge searching for crayfish and snails to feed their ravenous brood. As the young get older, they are seen alongside the parent learning the techniques needed to forage on their own.

    The refuge provides shallow wetland habitat for this species which is rarely found in the area, making Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge one of the few places where king rail can be seen.

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  • Great Blue Heron

    Great Blue Heron

    No matter what the season great blue herons can be seen stoically waiting for their next meal to come within striking distance. In the winter months when ice and snow cover the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife refuge, one may think “What can these birds be eating?”.  These birds devour almost anything including fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, insects and other birds, allowing it to survive harsh winter days.

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  • Eastern Snapping Turtle

    Snapping Turtle

    The Eastern snapping turtle, also known as the common snapping turtle, is likely the only snapping turtle you will see at the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge. The other "snapper", the alligator snapping turtle, is found in the south and southeast part of Missouri. 

    The best way to tell the difference between the two species is to look at their snout and the ridges or keels on their back. An adult common snapping turtle has a small hook on the end of its snout and lower ridges on the back shell. These features are more prominent on the alligator snapping turtle. When you come across either of these species, be sure to keep a safe distance away because they will stand their ground and snap onto anything within reach!

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  • Moist Soil Units

    Water Management

    Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge is located in the floodplain of the Mississippi River.  The refuge is separated from the river by a large levee which restricts most seasonal floods.  Refuge staff manages the habitat by mimicking these flood events with a technique called "moist soil management".

    "Moist soil units" are small units which are separated by levees to allow staff to manage each unit independently.  Typically water is lowered in the spring to provide mudflats for migrating shorebirds. The units are dry during the summer to allow plants to germinate and grow. Those plants are flooded in the fall to provide food and resting areas for migrating waterfowl.  During the peak of the migration in mid-November, over 200,000 ducks and 10,000 geese may be present on the refuge.

    Throughout the year these wetlands provide habitat for resident species including deer, frogs, turtles, and other species of wildlife.

  • Wet Meadow

    Wet Meadow

    When viewing the habitat at the Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge, it is possible to think that a grassy field is simply a grassy field, when in fact it is likely a wet meadow. A wet meadow, by definition, is a riparian grassland or a grassy area within the floodplain of a river or stream which has saturated soils most of the growing season. 

    Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge lies within the floodplain of the Mississippi river where the land is low and flat. Rain, snow-melt and flood waters settling in these fields flow very slowly, if at all, across the surface and subsurface of these lands. Wet tolerant plants, such as sedges, rushes, and some grasses, along with the soils and wet conditions, are what classify these lands as wet meadows.

  • Bottomland forest

    Bottomland Forest

    Forests growing within the floodplain of rivers and streams are considered bottomland forests. These areas either experience floods on a frequent basis, such as the “flash floods” along small riverine systems, or are subjected to long flooding durations typical of large riverine systems. Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge is located within the floodplain of one of the largest rivers in the world. Flooding along the Mississippi River in 1993 extended from April to October of that year. 

    The pin oak, swamp white oak, cottonwood, green ash, willows, river birch, silver maple, pecan and other trees at the refuge have adapted to these conditions. This habitat provides food and cover for many wildlife species, including deer, turkey, wood ducks, prothonotary warbler, pileated woodpeckers and more.