Wildlife & Habitat


Bird counts are conducted weekly during the fall migration seasons.  

here  for the latest updates and historical count information.

  • Migratory Waterfowl

    Mallards on DeSoto Lake

    Migrating birds have followed the Missouri River each spring and fall since the last ice age. As their resting and feeding sites along the flyway have disappeared, Refuges, such as DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, have become increasingly vital to their survival.

    During the spring and fall, DeSoto’s wetlands become a temporary home for a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds. Look for migrating birds from September-December and March-April.

    A variety of birds depend on the aquatic and wetland habitats at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Such species include mallards, blue and green winged teal, northern pintail, American wigeon, wood ducks, Canada geese and pelicans.

  • Grassland Birds

    Dickcissel on the prairie at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

    DeSoto’s grasslands are home to many bird species including dickcissels, grasshopper sparrows, and meadowlarks. The Refuge’s large tracts of prairie provide cover for nesting sites protecting the birds from predators, such as coyotes, foxes and raccoons, which prefer the edges of the grasslands.

  • Songbirds

    Yellow warbler at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

    In spring, the bottomland forests of DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge fill with color and music as a variety of songbirds arrive from Central and South America. These migrants are called neotropical migrants because they breed in Canada or the United States and then migrate in the winter to Mexico, Central America, South America or the Caribbean.

  • Missouri River Floodplain

    Missouri River floodplain habitat at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

    The Missouri River once flowed untamed and was a dynamic system that created river channels, wetlands, floodplain forests and grasslands. The wetlands it created along its banks are places of biological productivity, resilience and beauty. Wetlands and wetland restoration play in important part in the Refuge’s mission as they provide resting and feeding spots for migratory birds such as wood ducks, green and blue winged teal, mallards, great blue herons, egrets and many more. The health and breeding success of wetland dependent birds depends on utilizing these habitats during the stressful migrations.

  • Bottomland Forest

    Bottomland forest habitat at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

    It is likely that most of what is now DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge was once covered with bottomland forest, although the continual shifting and meandering of the river channel probably removed the forest cover periodically and maintained some areas in prairie grass. Cottonwood is the dominant tree. These stands were likely established when the Missouri River was actively flooding, scouring and depositing soils in natural processes that are no longer occurring on a regular basis. Without flooding, proper conditions for the regeneration of cottonwood stands rarely occurs. In 2011, many of the bottomland forests at the Refuge flooded. The effects of this flooding on the forest will be seen for years to come.

  • Tallgrass Prairie

    Grassland habitat at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

    It has been estimated that of the original tallgrass prairie that once covered millions of acres across the midwest, as little as 1% remains. Tallgrass prairie is much more than just grasses and includes hundreds of species of shrubs, forbs, and wildflowers and a host of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects that depend upon the vegetation composition and structure, either directly or indirectly.

    At least 14 species of native grasses can be found in Refuge grasslands with the dominant species being big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, indian grass, and Canada wild rye. There are at least 160 species of native forbs and wildflowers found in Refuge grasslands.