Wildlife & Habitat

Wood duck - Credit: Neal Hohman.
  • Freshwater Mussels

    Freshwater mussels - Credit: USFWS.

    Mussels are important to the health of a river ecosystem. They are filter feeders, which helps reduce silt, sediment, and pollutants in the water. They also provide habitat for other invertebrates and fish, and are food for other wildlife. Burrowed in the river sediment, mussels move very little during their life and require fish to serve as hosts to disperse their young. The refuge is working with many other wildlife organizations to help conserve and restore freshwater mussel populations and communities. Forty-seven species of native freshwater mussels live within the refuge waters on the Ohio River. This includes eight federally endangered mussel species: fanshell, pink mucket, sheepnose, spectaclecase, snuffbox, purple cat's paw pearlymussel, clubshell, and rayed bean. 

  • Migratory Birds

    Baltimore oriole - Credit: Neal Hohman.

    Nearly 200 species of birds use our refuge lands and surrounding waters each year. Many are only passing through during migration but they stop along the Ohio River to feed and rest. The refuge lies between two major migration routes, the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, which results in a high species diversity along the river. Providing high quality habitat for migratory birds ranks among the refuge’s most important goals. Waterfowl, songbirds, and birds of prey are all common sights on the river. One notable example of migratory bird seen on the refuge is the osprey which is most commonly seen along the Ohio River during the warmer months.

  • Riparian and Aquatic Species

    Red-eared slider - Credit: Timothy Heoflitch.

    The area bordering the Ohio River is a unique habitat making it the optimal home for a great variety of animals. This includes frogs, toads, and turtles which live throughout the refuge. An array of dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies stands out among many insects during the warmer months. Over 25 different species of mammals live on the refuge land, ranging from the white-tailed deer, raccoons, muskrats, and mink to the cottontail rabbit and red fox. In the depths and shallows of the Ohio River, well over 100 different species of fish exist. Some of the most common species are the spotted bass, sauger, freshwater drum, channel and flathead catfish.

  • Riparian Forests

    Riparian Forests

    Riparian forests are important components of the ecological functioning of the Ohio River ecosystem both biologically and geologically. They provide an important but limited habitat for a multitude of animals as well as reduce erosion through bank stabilization. The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge is working to protect, conserve, and restore habitat to riparian forests. Several islands are former agricultural lands which are now in the early stages of natural succession that occurs within a forest. Tree planting and invasive plant control help supplement natural processes of recovery.

  • Riverbed

    Pink heelsplitter mussel in riverbed. Credit: USFWS

    The sand and gravel deposits around the islands are one of the refuge’s most important underwater habitats for supporting native freshwater mussels and fish. These deposits are protected today from dredging, and the refuge is working to restore habitats disturbed by past disturbances. This is in part accomplished by the stabilization of eroding banks, through the regrowth of riparian forests and construction of rock dikes. A healthy and stable river bed allows the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation, such as freshwater eelgrass, which is excellent habitat for fish and other aquatic species.