Wildlife & Habitat

Mesic Prairie

The Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area was established to provide habitat restoration and wildlife management within the Kankakee River Basin. The refuge and conservation area embodies the commitment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with others in the area to achieve wildlife conservation through partnerships.

  • Black-crowned Night-Heron

    Black-crowned night-heron

    Black-crowned Night-Herons use the area’s wetlands, rivers, and wet agricultural fields as resting and feeding places. They are most active at night or at dusk when they leave daytime roosts to look for food. They are social birds that breed in colonies of stick nests, which are usually built over water. Look for them standing still or walking slowly at the edge of shallow water looking for food, focusing on small fish and crayfish. They also perch above water to fish.

  • Red-headed Woodpecker

    Red-headed Woodpecker

    Red-headed Woodpeckers live in the black oak savannas found on the area. You can easily spot their bright crimson heads, white bodies, and half-white, half-black wings as they search these open woodlands for food. They easily catch insects in the air, unlike most woodpeckers, and eat lots of acorns and beech nuts. They often hide extra food in tree crevices for later. These birds are rare in most of the Midwest today, but the important habitat and abundant food found in the Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area makes them more common here.

  • Regal Fritillary

    Regal Fritillary

    This beautiful bright red-orange butterfly with black markings can be found in larger open grasslands, wet fields, remnant tallgrass prairie, and damp meadows and marshes. It has a large wingspan measuring from 2 ½ to 4 inches across. Once abundant, they are now becoming less common but can still be seen as they gather nectar from common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, swamp milkweed, wild bergamot, dogbane, and native thistles. During the late summer months, also look for them among the violets, where they lay their eggs.

  • Riverine Wetlands

    Momence Wetlands

    Just a few miles west of the border between Illinois and Indiana in the Momence, IL area, wetlands along the Kankakee River give us a glimpse of what the Grand Kankakee Marsh once looked like before agriculture dominated the landscape. These wetlands contain trees such as green ash, sycamore, silver maple, and eastern cottonwood commonly found in floodplains along rivers. Wetlands are among the most productive natural communities on earth and teem with life. From frogs and dragonflies to ducks and large wading birds, wildlife thrive here, relying on the wetlands for food, shelter, and raising their young.

  • Oak Savanna

    Black Oak Savanna

    Prior to European settlement, oak savanna covered approximately 27 to 32 million acres of the Midwest. Over 99 percent of the original savanna has been lost, and Midwestern oak savanna is among the rarest ecosystem in the world. Development has destroyed, fragmented, and disrupted natural processes needed to maintain quality oak savanna. Despite this, the Kankakee Sands portion of the Kankakee River watershed represents one of the greatest concentrations of black oak savanna left on the landscape today.