Plants and Animals

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From Missouri Conservationist: Aug 2008

Species of Concern: Interior Least Tern

Common Name: Interior Least Tern

Scientific Name: Sterna antillarum athalassos

Range: Missouri and Mississippi rivers

Classification: State and federally endangered

To learn more about endangered species: explore the links listed below.

Terns are graceful fliers that dive into water to catch their food. The only species that nests in Missouri is the endangered interior least tern. Its yellow bill and white forehead distinguish it from others. Measuring 9 inches from the tip of its yellow bill to the end of its forked tail, it is Missouri’s smallest tern. Least terns once nested on sandbar islands in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where they were safe from predators. However, changes in the rivers have eliminated most of these safe havens. The only regular least tern nesting sites in Missouri waters in recent years have been along the Mississippi River in extreme southeastern Missouri. They nest from May to September, usually laying two olive-colored eggs in shallow depressions. They also nest along the Missouri River upriver from the Show-Me State. They are seen elsewhere in Missouri only rarely—mostly in August and September—along the state’s two great rivers.

Cicada Killers on the Loose

Females can sting but seldom do.

A distressed squawk followed by a cicada tumbling from a tree usually announces the presence of a cicadakiller (Sphecius speciosus). Measuring nearly 2 inches, these wasps look fearful. However, the male of the species has no sting. Females are not aggressive, seldom using their stings on anything but their prey, which serve as food for developing wasp larvae. Females dig burrows 6 to 10 inches deep. The larvae form pupae, from which the next generation emerges the following summer.

Birds Eating Wild

Natural foods abound in late summer.

Nature sets a feast for birds in late summer and early fall. Insects, snails and other invertebrates provide high-protein meals for birds of almost every feather. Acorns and other “hard mast” crops are dietary staples of turkeys, waterfowl and other large birds. Meanwhile, pokeberries, elderberries, wild grapes and dogwood fruits are ripening, and a dizzying array of nutritious seeds, from wild grasses and ragweed to sunflower and coneflower, are ready for finches, cardinals and other songbirds to eat. Hummingbirds sip nectar from jewelweed. Birds appreciate meals at bird feeders, but they might be less frequent feeder visitors this time of year because natural foods better meet their nutritional needs. Buy wild planting stock from nurseries that participate in Grow Native!

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Ruby
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler