Wildlife & Habitat

Common Gallinule

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge consists of nearly 6,000 acres of unique habitat, including islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands.

  • Lake Sturgeon

    Lake Sturgeon

    TheLake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is a North American temperate freshwater fish. Once abundant in the Great Lakes, this species has been over-harvested for its various products, and has succumbed to pollution and loss of migratory waterways causing it to reach threatened status in 19 of the 20 states in its range. The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge has been collaborating with partners to re-establish these fish in their historic range. Some success was achieved in 2001 when sturgeon reproduction was documented in U.S. waters of the Detroit River for the first time in 30 years. Successful reproduction of the fish in Canadian waters of the river was documented in 2009. Although still rarely seen by most recreational anglers, lake sturgeon are an important indicator of a healthy watershed, and mark the success of restoration efforts in the Detroit River.

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  • Eastern Fox Snake

    Eastern Fox Snake

    A North American rat snake, the Eastern fox snake is a native resident of the emergent wetlands situated along Lake Erie and Lake Huron. It prefers large, open wetland complexes with herbaceous vegetation such as cattails for cover. The Eastern fox snake is found in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario and is listed as a Threatened Species by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources primarily because of habitat loss and fragmentation. Reptiles and amphibians are terrific environmental indicators and can provide critical data necessary to monitor subtle changes in the environment that may compromise our ecosystem. As such, the Eastern fox snake has been given special management considerations within refuge boundaries.

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  • Canvasback


    The coastal marshes of western Lake Erie and the lower Detroit River provide extensive feeding and nesting habitats for waterfowl, including the largest of the North American diving ducks, the canvasback. On average more than 300,000 diving ducks stop over each year to rest and feed on beds of wild celery in the lower Detroit River during fall migration. As a result, this area of the river has been designated a globally significant site for congregating waterfowl. Historically diving duck species such as Canvasbacks and Scaup have been drawn to this area because of the extensive beds of aquatic vegetation, however pollution caused by industrial plants and municipal sewage have degraded the lower Detroit River ecosystem over the last century, resulting in a substantial decline of these preferred foods. Consequently, the numbers of diving ducks visiting the area steadily dropped because of this ecological shift. Today, as a result of focused conservation efforts, an estimated 3 million waterfowl migrate through the Great Lakes and this significant ecosystem annually.

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  • Emergent Wetlands

    Emergent Wetland

    Large, contiguous parcels of emergent wetland habitat are rare within the lower Great Lakes landscape. As a result, plant and animal species associated with these ecosystems are steadily declining in most areas of the region. Species such as the marsh wren, American and least bittern, Forster’s tern, common moorhen, black tern, and others are declining. Through careful management and clever stewardship methods, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is able to provide large swaths of cattail habitat intermixed with patches of arrowhead, bulrushes, and pickerel weed – all important plant material used for nest construction on many of the refuge’s units.

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  • Shallow Shoals

    Shallow Shoals Habitat

    A number of shallow water habitats exist within the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. These environments provide critical habitat for dozens of fishes living in the lower Detroit River and western Lake Erie. The strength behind these habitats is their connectivity to many of the unique wetlands present in the Great Lakes.

    The shoals act as a barrier against wind and waves and provide protection for exposed shoreline. By acting as a buffer, these shallow pools are transformed and become connected over time creating a vast aquatic landscape, each shoal evolving into a unique ecosystem. Fish living in these habitats have ample choice of habitats through different phases of their life cycle, thus preserving an array of species adapted to particular habitat characteristics.

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  • Wet Meadows

    Wet Meadow Island

    Wet meadow habitat, one of the most diverse ecosystems present within the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, is typically dominated by blue-joint grass and sedges. Located adjacent to emergent freshwater marshes, this habitat is resistant to most tree growth because of high seasonal water level fluctuations. As a result, a perpetual environment dominated by early successional vegetation is created.

    Despite what seems to be a flaw within its ecosystem, these wet meadow habitats provides opportunities for many important native pollinators. The wildflowers, grasses and sedges present within its ecosystem diversify the landscape in a unique area situated between wetlands and uplands, a crossover that gives shelter to an incredible range of wildlife and plants.

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