Wildlife & Habitat

Mallard hen with brood page photo
  • Northern Harrier

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    Northern harriers, formerly known as marsh hawks, are a common visitor on Leopold's Waterfowl Protection Areas. This slender, medium-sized raptor has a long, barred tail and distinctive white rump. It has an owl-like facial disk that is visible at close range. Harriers are unusual in that there is a greater difference between male and female plumage than is typical of raptors. Females are brown above with varying degrees of brown and buff streaking below. Males are gray above with an unmarked lighter color below; they also have black wingtips. Juveniles are brown above and plain orange-brown below. Northern harriers are open-country birds, often seen soaring low over grassland.

  • Bobolink


    A distinctive bird in grassland habitat, bobolinks are the only American bird that is black underneath and white on the back. As with many other bird species, the male is the colorful one during the mating season and turns a duller camouflage for most of the year.

  • Silphium

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    More commonly known as rosin weed, cup plant, prairie dock and compass plant, the various types of silphiums with their bright yellow flowers can often be seen blooming on Leopold's Waterfowl Production Areas. The District is named in honor of naturalist Aldo Leopold, who wondered, "what a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked."

  • Wetlands


    Wetlands are among the most productive habitats in the world, providing food and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.They also benefit human communities by filtering sediments and excess nutrients, lessening flood potential, and replenishing groundwater supplies. Unfortunately, about half of Wisconsin's wetlands have been lost in the last 200 years, from about 10 million acres to 5 million. The majority of those losses have occurred in the agricultural and developing urban areas of southeastern Wisconsin. Historically, this area closely resembled the landscape known as the prairie pothole region, a major waterfowl production region located within the north central United States. The wetlands within the Leopold Wetland Management District are regionally and locally important because they provide some of the best remaining habitat not only for waterfowl but also many other wildlife and plant species. 

  • Prairie


    Tallgrass prairie once covered more than 2 million acres of Wisconsin. These prairies were home to large numbers of grassland birds and other wildlife. The prairies also conserved topsoil by protecting it from wind and water erosion, captured winter snowfalls and released the spring run-off slowly, and protected the water quality of rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. Insect species, many of which are important pollinators or that attack agricultural  pests, thrive in diverse grasslands. Unfortunately today only roughly 10,000 acres of tallgrass prairie remain in Wisconsin, much of it fragmented and heavily degraded. The loss of grasslands has led to serious declines in the populations of many birds that depend on grasslands. The loss has also decreased water quality due to sediment and nutrient runoff, and increased use of pesticides. Fortunately, Waterfowl Production Area grasslands continue to provide some of the best and most secure nesting cover for waterfowl, grassland dependent birds, and beneficial insect species.

  • Oak Savannah

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    Oak savanna is composed primarily of grass groundcover and widely spaced trees, often burr and white oak, and was maintained historically by frequent fires. As with wetlands and grasslands, the area of oak savanna in Wisconsin has been greatly reduced. Oak savanna once covered more than 5 million acres; however, today only about 500 acres (.01%) of intact oak savanna remain in the state. Much of the decline in oak savanna is related to the increase in invasive brush species as a result of wildfire suppression. Being a mix of grassland and woodland, there are several bird species that are associated with oak savanna. One of the most recognizable birds of oak savanna is the red-headed woodpecker. Oak savanna on Leopold Wetland Management District is important because it represents a once-dominant habitat that is now one of the most imperiled in the state.