Animals along the river
Shorebirds: Least tern and piping plover
These shorebirds depend on the Missouri River for nesting habitat to breed and raise their young. They nest along the river, preferring sparsely vegetated sandbars. Terns and plovers often nest in the same colony, which provides additional protection, especially for the plover (the smaller of the two species). Although these species are very similar, there are some slight differences. The tern is about 9 inches long, typically begins breeding three years after hatching and lives up to 20 years. The plover is a little smaller at 6 to 7 inches long, typically begins breeding the first spring after hatching and lives six years on average.
The reservoirs created by the large dams along the river have drastically altered the character of the river and the habitat of these birds. These disruptions not only reduce the habitat available for the birds, but also create a greater risk of providing hiding places for predators, particularly around sand and gravel mines.
Historically, this bird has nested along large rivers in Missouri, including the Missouri River. Eagles normally breed when they are four to five years old, and they mate for life. They typically live 30 years in the wild, though they have lived up to 50 years in captivity. Although most eagles today breed mainly in Alaska and Canada, there are over 150 active nests in Missouri, where these three- to four-foot-tall birds can be found high in the trees above the river.
In the mid-1900s, this bird suffered significant population loss as a result of hunting and the introduction of harmful pesticides, such as DDT, in the food chain, which severely impaired their ability to reproduce. By the 1970s, the bald eagle no longer nested in Missouri, and was placed on the endangered species list. Upon banning DDT and reintroducing the bald eagle into Missouri, there are now sufficient pairs of bald eagles for them to be taken off the endangered species list. There have been a growing number of bald eagles since that time, and these birds can be seen in Missouri during the winter near open water along the river.
There are nearly 300 species of mussels in North America, and roughly 65 of those species live in Missouri waters, at the bottom of rivers and streams. They are also good indicators of water quality because they can live up to 100 years, rarely move and are very sensitive to changes in water condition. They typically grow to be anywhere from 2 to 9 inches long, depending on the species and the quality of water. This long life span depends on a complex reproductive cycle, where the eggs are fertilized, brood into larvae, and then must attach to a host fish to develop into juveniles before releasing into the streambed for development into adult mussels.
Freshwater mussels in Missouri have declined significantly in population due to overharvest, unstable habitat conditions and the introduction of non-native mussel species. Mussels were overharvested early 1900s for their use as buttons, then development along the rivers in the mid-1900s disrupted many of their habitats by reducing riparian and stream bank vegetation and availability of host fish for the larvae to grow. The Asian clam and Zebra mussel are two non-native mussels that compete for food and habitat, and reproduce more easily because they do not need a host fish to grow. In fact, they can attach to anything solid, including freshwater mussels, and often suffocate other species in the process of developing into adults because the females of these species can lay up to 1 million eggs per year.
Also known as the Spoonbill, this fish has a long paddle- or spoon-shaped rostrum that extends about one-third the length of the fish's body. Instead of bones, this fish has hard cartilage, and it can grow to weigh nearly 100 pounds.
This fish is native to the Missouri, Mississippi and Osage river basis, and is listed as both a sport and commercial fish in Missouri. However, dams, water-quality issues and illegal harvests of adult paddlefish have threatened the survival of the species. The Missouri Department of Conservation maintains paddlefish fisheries in order to protect the fish's future survival and to maintain it as a trophy sport fish.
There are three species of sturgeon in Missouri: shovelnose, pallid and lake. Pallid and lake sturgeons are rare and endangered, and in an effort to protect these species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in October 2010 that shovelnose sturgeons should be treated as threatened because of their similarities in appearance.
There are two main reasons why the sturgeon populations have so drastically declined: overharvest and habitat loss. The sturgeon's eggs, called "roe," are used to make caviar. Between 1998 and 2001, commercial harvest of these eggs increased over 1000 percent because of the decline in the Russian caviar supply. Habitat loss, resulting from channeling for barge traffic and developing flood control and navigation mechanisms, has also devastated the population. The river's surface water was reduced almost by half between 1934 and 1972. In order to protect the species, it is necessary to protect the fish from overharvest and illegal harvest, as well as restore the habitat previously destroyed by development along the river.