The annual hydrograph of large rivers, including flood pulses and low-flow periods, is believed to play a primary role in the productivity of biota associated with these ecosystems. We investigated the relationship between river hydrology and Interior least tern (Sterna antillarum) reproductive success on the Lower Mississippi River from April to July 1986-1993. The number of fledglings produced per adult pair was negatively correlated with July mean (r= -0.95, p = 0.0004) and July maximum river elevation (r= -0.97, p = 0.0001), but no other aspect of river hydrology were related to tern reproduction. Low-water elevations in July may benefit least tern reproductive success by increasing sand island area or the area of shallow-water habitat that surrounds islands. Loss of deep-water habitats in conjunction with an increase in shallow habitat during stage decreases may concentrate fish prey in shallow-water habitats and backwater areas, thereby increasing food availability during chick-rearing. Copyright ?? 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.