Newsroom Midwest Region

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

Riverine sanctuary celebrates 60 years of conservation

August 2, 2018

Muscatine Slough at Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jessica Bolser/USFWS.
Muscatine Slough at Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jessica Bolser/USFWS.

Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge is turning 60 this week! Bordering Iowa and Illinois, this river refuge was established in 1958 to provide habitat for migratory birds along the Mississippi flyway. Stopover habitat is essential for providing waterfowl places to rest and refuel. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invite you to join us and learn what makes this refuge so special.

Every spring and fall you can see huge clouds of waterfowl, with more than 50,000 ducks, geese and swans stopping by on their migration. Port Louisa protects more than 18,000 acres of river corridor and has five distinct divisions, Louisa, Big Timber, Horseshoe Bend, Keithsburg and the Iowa River corridor.

The refuge is home to a wide variety of year-round wildlife, providing a mix of habitats ranging from grassland to floodplain forest. Even though the grasslands that once defined more than half of Illinois and nearly all of Iowa are mostly gone, the refuge offers you a window into that world at the Horseshoe Bend Division. It’s common to see sedge wrens, indigo buntings and variety of shorebirds during a visit to the grasslands and wet meadows.

Port Louisa also boasts large stretches of protected Upper Mississippi River floodplain, which is rare since the area has faced more than 150 years of fragmentation from agriculture and development. Many forest-dwelling songbird species rely on large blocks of habitat in order to nest successfully. Biologists and land managers have been increasing the overall health of these habitats by making more room for oaks, pecans and other hardwood species. Sycamore trees are also a common sight in these bottomland forests. Crisp winter days are the perfect time to look for their iconic white branches.

National wildlife refuges across the country provide opportunities for visitors to make their own connections to the outdoors. Most people visit Port Louisa to hunt, fish, bird, photograph and learn about the refuge. While most of the refuge is open year-round, some portions are closed to the public from mid-September through December. Timed closures help provide a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl to rest and feed without being disturbed as they gear up for the next leg of their journey. Self-guided hikes and staff-led programs help visitors learn more about wildlife and their habitats.

When you visit you’ll likely see a variety of migratory waterfowl, white-tailed deer, bald eagles, northern water snakes and red-headed woodpeckers. The refuge also boasts a diversity of songbirds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. With more than 278 species of birds and millions passing through the refuge each year, you’re bound to see some incredible sights!

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of an elusive bobcat or one of many warbler species. Sandhill cranes migrate through the area and may even be breeding on the refuge. The refuge is part of a state designated reptile and amphibian conservation area in southeast Iowa. This biodiversity hotspot has the highest number of rare species of amphibians and reptiles in the state and is home to Blanding’s turtles, spiny softshell turtles, copperbelly water snakes and other sensitive species.

Learn more about Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge and plan your visit today!

Historic photo by USFWS.

Celebrating the Future and Appreciating the Past

This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff.

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