Wildlife & Habitat

Bald Eagle Nest with Eaglet

The purposes of Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, defined in its establishment in 1976 are to

  • Provide habitat for a large number of migratory waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife species
  • Provide environmental education, wildlife recreation opportunities, and interpretive programs for hundreds of thousands of Twin Cities Residents
  • Protect important natural resource areas from degredation
  • Protect the valley's unique social, educational, and environmental assets

  • Wood Duck

    Wood Duck

    Refuge lands are managed in part for migrating waterfowl.  The wood duck is one species that breeds in the Minnesota River Valley.  The floodplain forest habitats in the Refuge provide an ideal home for wood ducks.  They are "cavity nesters", preferring abandoned holes in cottonwoods, maples, oaks, and ash trees.  Wood ducks typically choose a tree 2 feet in diameter, with a cavity anywhere from 6 to 60 feet high.

  • River Otter

    River Otter

    River otters thrive on the Refuge where there is high quality water and abundant food supply.  River otters settle in areas with significant coverage, usually vegetation or physical structures such as rock piles.  They do not dig their own homes, instead they use naturally occurring shelters or abandoned burrows and dens.


  • Prairie Skink

    Prairie Skink

    The prairie skink is the only lizard found on the Refuge!  Restoration of prairie and oak savannas on the Refuge has created high quality habitat for this sandy soil burrower.  Look for them basking on top of rocks or logs and actively foraging for crickets, grasshoppers and spiders.


  • Floodplain Forest

    Floodplain Forest

    Floodplain forests historically dominated much of the floodplain along the Minnesota River.  Today, this plant community continues to provide migration and nesting habitat for several significant birds that are a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  These include the Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk and Wood Duck.  Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge monitors and restores the forest community to include cottonwood, sliver maple, American elm, green ash, and wood nettle.  Several floodplain forest areas on the Refuge are closed to protect bald eagle nests and heron and egret nesting colonies from human disturbance throughout the breeding season.  Make sure to observe posted closed areas.


  • Tallgrass Prairie

    Tallgrass Prairie

    The Refuge is reestablishing native prairie grasses and wildflowers that once dominated the prairies and oak savanna through active vegetation removal, planting, and prescribed fire.  After removing unwanted plants, primarily trees that are not oaks, the area is burned multiple times over several years to stimulate the growth of native grasses and flowers.  It may take more than 20 years for the full complement of native plant species to recover.  Years of fire suppression and grazing have allowed many invasive species to take over the landscape.


  • Wetlands


    Refuge units contain a variety of wetlands, ranging from shallow wet meadows and calcareous fens to permanently flooded, mixed vegetation marshes.  Nearly all of the wetlands are spring-fed, and most of the larger wetlands are surrounded by mature cottonwoods, willow, silver maple, and box elder.  Water control structures have been installed on many of the Refuge's wetlands, and Refuge staff are able to manipulate water levels to improve the health and productivity of these aquatic communities.


  • Our Habitat Management Plan

    Youth at environmental education program at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

    To achieve our mission to conserve and protect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats, we work with others to develop a plan to manage Refuge lands.  You can read our Habitat Management Plan (HMP) here.

  • Our Conservation Plan

    Rapids Lake Oak Savanna

    Refuge conservation plans are called “Comprehensive Conservation Plans” (CCP). The purpose of a CCP is to specify a management direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years.  Read more about our CCP here.