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Wildlife & Habitat

520 x 219 Geese in flight

      In the spring and fall, thousands of snow geese may be observed passing through the District, with the largest numbers often seen in a corridor from the town of Madison to 40 miles west of Madison. 

     Waterfowl need both grasslands and wetlands to live and raise their young. The wetlands supply abundant food, while thick upland vegetation offers ideal nesting sites and cover for newly hatched ducklings. Unfortunately, over time, settlement, agriculture, and development have reduced the prairie landscape from an ocean of grasses to a patchwork of lands in the midst of croplands, roads, and cities. 

     Shallow, temporary wetlands are important because they warm up first in the spring and produce protein-rich food for migrating and breeding waterfowl. Deep, permanent marshes hold water throughout the summer and provide a safe place for ducklings to grow. 

      Each WPA is unique in size, wetland type, and plant and animal community. WPAs provide for the needs of a wide range of animals such as nesting ducks, migrating geese, shorebirds, deer, muskrats, ring-necked pheasants, and Neotropical songbirds.       

  • Butterflies & other Pollinators

    Butterfly on Milkweed 150x118

    Combined ecological pressures of the loss of native prairie, certain agricultural practices, and the use of pesticides have accelerated the decline in members of the milkweed family, the only species that support monarchs in their larval stages.  Nationwide, monarch numbers have dropped precipitously in the last several years to levels quickly becoming insufficient to sustain the population. Learn more about saving the monarchs by clicking here

     In an effort to call attention to the plight of the monarch butterfly, the Madison WMD office has a limited supply of free butterfly garden kits immediately available at the headquarters.  Kits contain locally-adapted, native wildflower seed suitable for a 20’ space, a common milkweed plant ready for transplanting, and a butterfly house. Learn More

     The plant species contained in the kit will provide necessary resources for a variety of pollinating insects on which humans depend for our own food resources.  Readily available perennials such as blazing star, butterfly milkweed, lavender, and coral bells, and annuals such as zinnias, calibrachoa, nasturtium, and African daisy from your local greenhouse can be added for extra diversity.   A surprising array of commercially available milkweeds would make a colorful monarch-specific garden!

     For a List of Butterfly Friendly Plants Click Here


  • Prairie Potholes

    Shining Wetlands 194 x 116

     As glaciers scraped across the landscape they gouged out millions of basins which filled with water when the massive ice sheets retreated. Interspersed with grasslands, this landscape makes up only 10% of the breeding habitat in North America but produces 50% of the continent's waterfowl.

    Prairie wetlands are dynamic habitats. They range in size from tiny puddles to large glacial lakes, they may be wet for a week or for many years, and vegetation can vary from tiny floating duckweed to a forest of phragmites (frag my teas). The prairie pothole wetland complexes and associated grasslands are an integral component of the prairie landscape, providing a wide array of ecological, social, and economic benefits. 

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  • Waterfowl

    CG brood 194 x 116

    Giant Canada geese were reintroduced into eastern South Dakota from the late 1960s through the 1980s; they have now become common nesters in every part of the District. Blue-winged teal and mallards are the most common ducks on Madison WMD. Other frequently observed breeding ducks are northern pintails, gadwalls, ruddy ducks, and redheads. Other waterbirds common to the District include American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, herons, gulls, terns, and shorebirds.

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  • Native Prairie

    Flowers 150 x 118

    The Great Plains of North America once covered over a million square miles through the center of the continent. These vast grasslands were shaped under disturbances such as fire, repeated grazing, and frequent droughts. The eastern third of this prairie ecosystem, from Manitoba, to Illinois and south to Texas, is known as the tallgrass prairie region. Tallgrass prairie once stretched across almost 200 million acres, but today, less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie remains.

    The rich soils that developed over hundreds or thousands of years combined with a gently rolling topography, made the region perfect for agriculture. When John Deere patented his plow made of steel in 1865, native prairie didn’t have a chance. Within 10 years, from 1860-1870, most of the tallgrass prairie was gone. 

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  • Mammals


    Mammals, including white-tail deer, mink, muskrat, beaver, skunk, raccoon, red fox, coyote, and badger are in abundance.The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. 

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Last Updated: May 01, 2015
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