Wildlife & Habitat

Wildflowers at Patoka River

One of the main missions of Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge is to provide resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for migratory birds.

  • Least Tern

    Nesting Least Tern

    The Federally endangered interior least tern is one of over 250 species of birds that have been found on the refuge. Least terns, which number only about 8,000 birds in the wild, can be found on the refuge mid-May through late August. Special gravel nesting islands with predator exclosures have been created specifically for the terns at Cane Ridge Wildlife Management Area. To date, the project has been a great success with the terns rearing an average of over 40 young per year at Cane Ridge.

  • Marbled Salamander

    Marbled Salamanders

    A study undertaken in 2009-2010 documented nine species of salamanders on the refuge. One of these species, the marbled salamander, can be found in the bottomland hardwood forests along the Patoka River. This secretive salamander conceals itself under rocks and logs, and in the burrows of small animals. The marbled salamander relies on permanent ponds in the forest floor for reproduction in the fall.

  • Halloween Pennant

    Halloween Pennant Dragonfly

    In the summer and fall, refuge wetlands are teeming with 42 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including the commonly seen Halloween pennant. The Halloween pennant, a dragonfly named for its orange and black wings, can be seen at almost any oxbow or wetland on the refuge from mid-June through early October.

  • Bottomland Hardwood Forests

    Bottomland Hardwood Forests

    The refuge boundary includes 12,700 acres of wetlands. The majority (55%) of wetlands within the boundary are bottomland hardwood forests, characterized by woody vegetation 20 feet tall or taller. Bottomland hardwood forests are found within the floodplain of the Patoka River and its tributaries where the terrain is relatively flat and the soils are poorly drained. Typical trees of these bottomland forests include sweetgum, swamp white oak, pin oak and shellbark hickory.

    The refuge is actively restoring frequently flooded farm fields in the Patoka River bottoms to bottomland hardwood forests. To date, over 1,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods have been planted on the refuge with the ultimate goal of maximizing species diversity and creating a contiguous belt of 13,000 acres of bottomland forest along the banks of the Patoka River within the refuge boundary.

  • Canebrakes

    Planting Giant Cane

    Giant cane, the only bamboo native to the United States, is a critical and unique component of the bottomland forest ecosystem. A host of wildlife species including the swamp rabbit and a host of insects rely on giant cane for all aspects of their lives. These dense stands of giant cane, also called canebrakes, have been reduced an estimated 98% since the time of European settlement in the Midwest.

    The refuge has been actively restoring canebrakes across three sites on the refuge in an attempt to restore this “piece” of landscape that had been nearly eliminated. To date, the project has been a success with an over 50% survival rate of the transplanted cane. Canebrakes will undoubtedly be restored across the refuge on other suitable properties as they are acquired.

  • Grassland

    Grasslands at Patoka River

    Patoka River NWR is unique in that some of the land added to the refuge was once surface-mined for coal and has since been reclaimed. Coal companies are now required to restore (reclaim) the approximate contours of the land, replace the topsoil, and re-establish vegetative cover on the landscape after removal of the coal. Lands are reclaimed to grasses, forests, wetlands, and cropland. Because of the compaction of the soil, it often takes many years for the soil to regain its fertility. However, grasses and some flowering plants do very well on these sites.

    As a result, the refuge has acquired over 300 acres of grassland that provide nesting habitat for bird species including the eastern meadowlark, Henslow’s sparrow and grasshopper sparrow. The refuge manages these grasslands using a variety of techniques to remove non-native vegetation and replace it with native grasses and flowering plants adapted to the local conditions. Over time, the refuge may be able to add over 1,500 acres of grassland as land becomes available.