Wildlife & Habitat

Great Egrets in a Marsh
  • Canada Goose

    Canada Goose

    One of the primary reasons the refuge was established in 1953 was to provide stopover habitat for Canada geese during spring and fall migration, in particular the Southern James Bay Population. This population of geese nests along the southwestern shore of James Bay (Ontario) and on Akimiski Island in James Bay (Northwest Territories). The refuge is one of a limited number of locations that these geese use to rest and feed while traveling the Mississippi Flyway to and from wintering grounds as far south as Georgia. Peak counts of all populations of geese at the refuge reach 20,000 birds.

  • Great Egret

    Great Egret

    One of the most charismatic species at the refuge is the great egret. Egrets are very commonly seen foraging in shallow water or resting in shrubby willows along the Wildlife Drive. The great egret stands more than three feet tall and has a wingspan of almost five feet. By the 1920s this species was nearly exterminated in North America by plume hunters. These hunters sought the bird’s snow white feathers which were high fashion in the millinery industry. Passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 enabled this species and many other birds to recover dramatically.

  • Prothonotary Warbler

    Prothonotary Warbler

    The prothonotary warbler is one of the refuge’s signature species. The refuge is one of very few places in Michigan that this beautiful bird nests. The prothonotary warbler was named after religious and legal clerks who sometimes wore a golden hood and a blue cape. It is also appropriately nicknamed the “golden swamp warbler.” The prothonotary is the only warbler in the eastern United States that nests in tree cavities. The best location to see this bird is along the Ferguson Bayou Trail. It occurs here from very late April into August.

  • Emergent Marsh

    Emergent Marsh

    Emergent marsh is one of the most important habitats at the refuge. It is a wetland characterized by an interspersion of open water and cattail. This habitat provides the most important resting and feeding conditions required by the large concentrations of migrant waterfowl that the refuge was established to protect. The most abundant waterfowl are Canada goose, mallard, green-winged teal, and ring-necked duck. Emergent marsh also provides important stopover habitat for large flocks of shorebirds, including dunlin, least sandpiper, and lesser yellowlegs. Other noteworthy denizens include pied-billed grebe, least bittern, black tern, marsh wren, Blanding’s turtle, and eastern fox snake.

  • Forested Wetland

    Forested Wetland

    The most widespread habitat at the refuge is forested wetland. These wetlands provide important habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife. Waterfowl such as wood ducks and hooded merganser are common here. The larger expanses provide important habitat for forest interior birds such as barred owl, eastern wood-pewee, American redstart, and scarlet tanager. The forested wetlands along Ferguson Bayou Trail are occupied by nesting prothonotary warblers. Numerous amphibians use the small ephemeral pools in the wetlands to breed, including blue-spotted salamander, wood frog, and gray treefrog. Butterflies you may see include hackberry emperor, American snout, and northern pearly eye.

  • Prairie

    Lakeplain Prairie

    Lakeplain prairie is a globally imperiled ecosystem. Historically, 158,000 acres of this prairie existed in Michigan in the early 1800s. Currently, only 0.6 percent remains. The refuge is restoring approximately 550 acres of this special habitat. Visitors can see one restoration site in progress from the observation platform at the entrance to Ferguson Bayou Trail and the Wildlife Drive. This 160-acre area was first plowed in the 1930s when it was aptly named Little Prairie. Hopefully, visitors will soon see this location as it used to appear, with prairie grasses and wildflowers swaying in the wind.