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Maintaining a healthy Missouri River, including protecting species that live along the river, is a top priority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The least tern and piping plover are shorebirds that use the Missouri River for breeding habitat. In 1985 the least tern was listed as endangered, and the piping plover as threatened, within the Missouri River basin. Today, the Corps’ conservation efforts are helping the recovery of these species.
While both birds nest elsewhere, the sandbars of the Missouri River and reservoir shorelines are important to their survival. In fact, in 2002 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated areas along much of the Missouri River as critical habitat for the piping plover.
Sandbars along the river provide especially good habitat because their sandy, barren nature provides ideal nesting and feeding habitat. While both birds are known to fiercely protect their young, the best protection for tern and plover eggs and chicks is their natural coloration, which blends into the sandy backgrounds. The sandbars provide food for plover chicks that forage along the shorelines. Least tern chicks are fed fish caught by their parents in the shallow water surrounding the sandbars.