Wildlife & Habitat

Wildlife & Habitat

Port Louisa was established for the protection of migratory birds. It is located along the Mississippi River Flyway, one of the major routes for migrating waterfowl. Key goals of the refuge are to conserve and enhance the quality and diversity of fish and wildlife and their habitats; and to restore floodplain functions in the river corridor.

  • Mallard


    Each spring and fall for thousands of years, the Mississippi River corridor has served as an important migration route for millions of birds. Waterfowl provide spectacular seasonal flights with thousands of mallards, pintail, wigeon, blue-winged and green winged teal, scaup, shoveler, gadwall, canvasback and geese commonly seen. Refuge wetlands also provide important mudflat and shallow water habitat where herons, egrets, and shorebirds can feed and rest. Marshy areas provide habitat for species such as rails and bitterns. The best places to see waterfowl are from the refuge overlooks on the Louisa Division.

  • Indigo Bunting

    Indigo Bunting

    Refuge forests and grasslands are home to many colorful songbirds that spend the winter in Central and South America and then migrate north for the summer breeding season. Some of these birds use refuge lands as stopover areas for resting and feeding during their journeys north and south. Others stay to nest and raise their young.

    Warblers and other birds are especially brilliant and vocal in the spring. The refuge trails on the Louisa Division are a great place to see these birds that use both forest and grassland habitat.


  • Spiny Softshell Turtle

    Spiny softshell

    The refuge is part of a state designated reptile and amphibian conservation area in southeast Iowa. Many snakes, turtles, frogs, and toads use the variety of habitats the refuge provides. Turtles are commonly seen basking on logs, and frogs and toads are abundant. The refuge is home to some state threatened and endangered snake species. The copperbelly watersnake uses the wetland scrub/shrub habitats and the diamondback watersnake uses wetland habitats. There are no poisonous snakes on the refuge.

  • Grasslands


    At the time of European settlement, grassland habitat dominated more than 50% of Illinois and nearly all of Iowa. Now less than one-tenth of 1% of the original tallgrass prairie exists in these states. Historic surveys indicate that grassland communities were once common within the Upper Mississippi River floodplain and included a mosaic of tallgrass prairie on drier sites and wet sedge meadows at lower elevations on wetter sites. Most of the original prairie and wet meadow within the floodplain was converted to agriculture. But some prairie and wet meadow communities have also shifted to forest or open water as a result of changes in water cycles resulting from the navigation system and flood control levees.

    Where elevation, soils, water table, and flood regime are favorable large tracts of grassland and wet meadow habitat are being restored, especially on the Horseshoe Bend Division. Smaller tracts of grassland have also been established for maintenance purposes on levees, for protection of archeological sites, or for use in environmental education and interpretive programs.

  • Floodplain Forest


    Forest habitats within the Upper Mississippi River floodplain are used by many wildlife species including migratory songbirds, waterfowl, hawks and eagles, deer, other mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

    During the past 150 years, large forests have been divided into smaller and smaller patches as land has been cleared for agriculture and development. Many forest-dwelling songbird species rely on large blocks of habitat in order to nest successfully and their numbers have decreased due to loss of habitat.

    The quality of the remaining forests has declined due to human-induced changes in flood frequency, duration, and depth. Many forests that once contained a wide variety of tree species and ages now consist largely of mature silver maple with little natural regeneration.

    At the refuge we manage forests for increased diversity by planting trees and clearing undesirable trees to make room for oaks, pecans and other desirable species to grow.