This refuge was established in 1974 for the primary purpose of bald eagle conservation. At that time, loss of habitat, the widespread use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and poaching had thinned the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states to 1 percent of its former size.
The refuge contains one of the last stretches of truly natural Missouri River bottomland. The broken topography of the river breaks provide valuable riparian habitat. Draws and northern aspects are heavily wooded with deciduous forests that provide essential roosting and nesting sites for bald eagles and many other migratory birds. A wide variety of wild species utilize this unique habitat.
Thousands of ducks and geese frequent the refuge during the annual migrations, while water birds such as the ring-billed and Franklin's gulls, common and least terns, double-crested cormorants and white pelicans rest and feed along the wide Missouri.
Both whitetail and mule deer slip secretly through the dense woodlands, often shadowed by coyotes or bobcats. Wild turkeys roost in the towering cottonwoods, while raccoons, mink, skunks, foxes and cottontails meander through the underbrush.
Along the woodland margins, flocks of ring-necked pheasants and bobwhites scratch for wild and cultivated seeds, while occasional red-tailed and ferruginous hawks watch from above, waiting for a chance to strike.
Dozens of species of songbirds native to the cottonwood-willow-dogwood habitat zone can be found on the refuge. During spring migration and nesting season, the woods seem ablaze with the striking colors as warblers, orioles, cardinals, grosbeaks and bluejays dart through the treetops. Each spring, well-known songsters such as brown thrashers, mockingbirds, meadowlarks and song sparrows fill the woods with nature's harmony.