Wildlife & Habitat

geese-wildlife and habitat

  • Waterfowl

    Wood ducks

    Chautauqua Refuge serves as a temporary home to hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that feed and rest on their annual spring and fall migration and has historically provided habitat for 60 to 70 percent of the waterfowl that migrate along the Illinois River corridor. The north and south pools of the refuge provide a mix of prime habitat for diving and dabbling ducks. Twenty-eight species of waterfowl are known to use the refuge. The area is also a significant area for wood duck production. The fall migration peaks in November and the spring migration peaks in late February or early March.

  • Shorebirds


    In addition to waterfowl, the low water during summer drawdowns and the resulting mudflats attract more than 30 species of shorebirds, especially sandpipers along with 10 species of gulls and terns. May and August can be the best time to see many shorebird species. Dense wetland vegetation provides shelter and feeding habitat for marsh birds such as rails, herons and egrets.

  • Passerine Birds


    Due to Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge’s diversity of habitats, it can host more than 150 species of “songbirds” at various times of the year. Significant tracts of bottomland forest support specialist species during periods of both nesting and migration. Notable species include: prothonotary warblers, red-headed woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers and rusty blackbirds. 

    In the drier upland forests along the east edge of Chautauqua Refuge, it is common to hear and see a different group of passerines, with thrushes, ovenbirds and cardinals being among the more common species. Edge species, such as flycatchers, can often be seen across the refuge perched along the water’s edge.

  • Wetlands


    Wetlands are transitional areas between land and water. They are covered by shallow water for at least some period of time throughout the year, have waterlogged soils and grow water-loving plant species which only grow in wetland areas. 

    Many words are used to describe wetlands including bogs, marshes, swamps, potholes and sloughs. Wetlands moderate the flow of nutrients and sediment running off the land and regulate the flow of water moving downstream. They clean water by absorbing and filtering pollutants that would end up in lakes, rivers, and groundwater. They buffer riverbanks and lake shores from the eroding effects of currents and waves. By absorbing spring runoff, they take the punch out of floodwaters. 

    Wetlands produce as much plant and animal life as do similarly sized areas of rain forest. Hydrological factors such as water depth, frequency and duration of flooding, and the amount of dissolved or suspended materials determine a wetland's functions and plant and animal populations. Other hydrological factors that affect how fast water enters and the amount of sediment it carries are partly responsible for a wetland's shape, size, depth and even location. Chautauqua Refuge has more than 3,000 acres of floodplain wetland habitat that supports a wide range of biological diversity. To learn more about the status of wetlands in the United States, see the National Wetlands Inventory website.

  • Bottomland Forest


    The protection of bottomland forests is another essential tool for providing habitat. Only 20 percent of the bottomland forests that once existed in the United States remain today; the majority was lost to agricultural land clearing.

    Bottomland forests provide benefits to a wide variety of wildlife and fish resources. They can support up to five times the wildlife species populations as some upland habitats. Small, seasonally flooded wet areas along streams and rivers are rich in invertebrates, which serve as a food source for animals near the bottom of the food chain.

    Bottomland hardwoods are valuable as roosting and den sites for many species. Some mammals, such as squirrels, use standing hollow trees as den sites, while others, like opossums and otters, use hollow trees after they fall.

    Food and cover produced by bottomland forests are essential for animals like the white-tailed deer, wild turkey and wood duck. Threatened and endangered species such as the Indiana bat and the bald eagle also make use of bottomland forests. (Harris et al., 1984)

  • Native Prairie


    Since European contact in North America, more than 99% of tallgrass prairie has been destroyed primarily because of conversion to agricultural uses. Undisturbed, tallgrass cover is not only valuable for nesting waterfowl, it provides habitat for other species, including pheasants, grouse, bitterns, northern harriers, short-eared owls and many passerine birds.

    Native grasses have root systems between five and nine feet deep, and because of this are excellent for long-term erosion control. They also grow well on poor soil because their deep roots can gain access to nutrients and water that shallower roots cannot reach.  


    Native grass stands require several years to reach maturity, and usually require mowing in the midsummer during their first and second years. Once fully established, however, there are very few weeds which can compete with native grasses for nutrients and water in the soil.