Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Missouri Valley, Iowa
Vast changes have taken place in the Missouri River Valley since settlement in the early 1800's. Land clearing, drainage projects, river channelization and flood control measures during the past 150 years have transformed the Missouri River floodplain from diverse wildlife habitat to fertile farmlands. DeSoto is part of a network of refuges devoted to preserving and restoring increasingly scarce habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife.
A Home For Wildlife
DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge's primary wildlife management role is to serve as a stopover for migrating ducks and geese. During typical years 200,000 snow and blue geese utilize the refuge as a resting and feeding area during their fall migration between the Arctic nesting grounds and the Gulf Coast wintering areas. Peak populations of 125,000 or more ducks, mostly mallards, are common on the refuge during the fall migration. October and November are the months of peak waterfowl use, with less spectacular concentrations of ducks and geese returning in March and early April. Bald eagles follow the geese into the area, with many wintering here until March. Peak numbers of bald eagles usually occur in late November and December, and again in early March. As many as 120 have been seen here at one time. Bald eagles are often seen perched in cottonwoods along DeSoto Lake when waterfowl are present, and good viewing opportunities are available from the DeSoto Visitor Center. An interesting assortment of warblers, gulls, shorebirds and other bird life can also be observed on the refuge during the fall and spring migration.
In the summer white-tailed deer with one or two fawns are often seen in the morning and evening hours beside refuge roads. Cottontails, raccoons, coyotes, opossums, and fox squirrels are also frequently observed along refuge roads and in fields. Backwater areas of DeSoto Lake and several wetlands on the refuge serve as habitat for beaver muskrat and an occasional mink.
Woods, fields of native prairie grasses, and the multiflora rose hedges along refuge roads attract a variety of songbirds and other wildlife, such as pheasants and bobwhite quail. Red-headed woodpeckers abound along the woodland edge. Wood ducks, perhaps the most beautiful of American waterfowl, may be seen in ponds throughout the refuge. Steep banks at several locations along DeSoto Lake provide burrowing sites for colonies of bank swallows.
Nearly 3,000 of the refuge's 7,823 acres are farmed by neighboring farmers, a part of which is left in the fields as food for the migrating ducks and geese. Both migrant and resident wildlife, such as deer and pheasant, use farm crops to supplement the natural foods available on the refuge. Since 1965, several hundred acres of refuge fields have been reverted to native prairie grasses which provide an important source of nesting habitat and winter shelter for wildlife. They also provide for a more diverse natural area. Wildlife managers use both fire and haying as management tools to maintain healthy stands of native grasses.
Additional waterfowl management on the refuge includes the maintenance of wood duck nesting habitat. Wood duck boxes have been installed to provide nesting sites for DeSoto's principal resident duck species. The manmade houses are used on areas where natural cavities in hollow trees are scarce.
One of DeSoto's most interesting programs involves the restoration of sandbar habitat to attract nesting piping plovers and Interior least terns. The least tern is considered endangered throughout the United States.
One of the first documented expeditions into this section of the Missouri River Valley occurred when Lewis and Clark traveled through the area seeking a land route to the Pacific. The explorers' journal entry, dated August 3, 1804, describes the party's historic meeting with Indians at the "council-bluff", after which the party set sail in the afternoon and encamped at the distance of five miles upstream. Although the river has changed its channel many times since, the Lewis and Clark campsite was probably located just below the river loop called DeSoto Bend, on or near the present refuge. Clark's journal notes an abundance of wildlife in the area including the expedition's first observation of a badger and "great numbers of wild geese."
By the mid 1800's, the Missouri River had become an artery for trade which opened the West. Steamboats carried supplies to the early fur trading posts, frontier settlements and mining towns. But the turbulent, snag-strewn "Big Muddy" took its toll of the early stern and side-wheelers. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 400 steamboats sank or were stranded between St. Louis, Missouri and Ft. Benton, Montana. The 1860-era sternwheeler Bertrand was discovered on the refuge in 1968 and unearthed the following year. Today, refuge visitors may view the site of this discovery, and tour the DeSoto Visitor Center which exhibits the many thousands of artifacts recovered from the hull.
APRIL 15 - SEPTEMBER 30
Wildlife Observation Nature Trails
Refuge Hours: 6:00 a.m. -10:00 p.m.
Visitor Center: 9:00 - 4:30 p.m. Closed Easter Day.
Mushroom Hunting: April 15 - May 31 in designated areas.
OCTOBER 1 - NOVEMBER 30
Opportunity for viewing migrating waterfowl
Special hunting programs, access as designated
Refuge Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Visitor Center: 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day.
Ice Fishing - January and February.
Special hunting seasons, access as designated.
Refuge access to the Visitor Center and Bertrand Excavation Site.
Nature trails are located adjacent to each.
The remainder of the refuge is closed to visitation to minimize the disturbance to wintering eagle, waterfowl and resident game populations.
Refuge Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Visitor Center: 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Closed Christmas and New Year's Day.
MARCH 1 - APRIL 14
Waterfowl Migration Observation
Refuge Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Visitor Center: 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
The following activities are PROHIBITED on DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge:
Refuge Manager DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Rt. 1, Box 114 Missouri Valley, Iowa 51555 Telephone 712/642-4121
Mission: As the Nation's principal conservation agency, the Department of the Interior has responsibility for most of our nationally-owned public lands and natural and cultural resources. This includes fostering wise use of our land and water resources, protecting our fish and wildlife, preserving the environmental and cultural values of our national parks and historical places, and providing for the enjoyment of life through outdoor recreation. The Department assesses our energy and mineral resources and works to assure that their development is in the best interests of all our people. The Department also promotes the goals of the Take Pride in America campaign by encouraging stewardship and citizen responsibility for the public lands and promoting citizen participation in their care. The Department also has a major responsibility for American Indian reservation communities and for people who live in Island Territories under U.S. Administration.