Contact Info
Missouri River Institute
The University of
South Dakota
414 E. Clark Street
Science Center
Vermillion, SD 57069

Financial support for website development provided by the
Living River Group
of the
Sierra Club




Site Description:

The Missouri River of the past provided plenty of habitat for the federally endangered interior least tern and threatened piping plover. These birds prefer sparsely vegetated sandbars, a historically common feature of the Missouri River. Variable flows would rearrange existing sediment to create new sandbars and scour the surface of existing bars, leaving optimal habitat for terns and plovers. With the dams in place there is less sediment moving through the system and therefore less new sandbars being formed. Flow regulation also reduces the river's ability to clean off existing bars. With a lack of suitable habitat available for these birds, sandbars or 'Emergent Sandbar Habitat' has been created by the Corps of Engineers here and at several additional locations on the Missouri National Recreational River and Lewis and Clark Lake. These Sandbars provide ideal nesting and foraging areas for the least tern and piping plover. The birds typically arrive in April and begin building their nests in May or June, laying their eggs soon after. The chicks hatch after approximately three to four weeks of incubation, learn to fly within another three to four weeks and by August have left their nests to begin their migration south. The interior least tern can be distinguished by the black cap of feathers covering its head and tips of its wings, while the piping plover is characterized by the dark ring around its neck and black-tipped orange bill.

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