- Each spring and fall, spectacular flights of ducks and geese have marked the changing seasons along this traditional waterfowl flyway. 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 have transformed the 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. It serves as a seasonal resting area for up to one-half million waterfowl, primarily lesser snow geese and mallards. It has also become an important wintering area for up to 120 bald eagles. Warblers, gulls, shorebirds, and other species also visit the refuge during the fall and spring migration.
A former oxbow of the Missouri River, DeSoto Lake provides recreational use for up to 350,000 visitors annually. The 1968 excavation of the steamboat Bertrand, which sank in 1865, adds a major historical emphasis to the refuge program. The 200,000 artifacts in the Bertrand Collection provide one of the most significant assemblages of Civil War era artifacts in the Missouri River region. The DeSoto Visitor Center, opened in 1981, exhibits much of the Bertrand Collection and contains interpretive displays on the historical development of the Missouri River Basin, the ecological impacts of that development, and the natural history of the area and its wildlife.