Seasons of Wildlife

Throughout the year, the Ohio River and its islands are a home for wildlife as well as for nature enthusiasts. There is something to see and experience here during every season. Witnessing the scope of change over time, sharing in the trials and triumphs of nature throughout the year, finding the beauty in the simple rhythms, offers an opportunity for transcendence often obscured by the pace of modern life.  Pause and take a break to ground yourself in what this wonderful natural resource has to offer!


As spring arrives and the forests explode into floral brilliance, more than twenty species of warbler dance in the tree tops.  The forest becomes a place of birdsong and wonder.  Every day heralds the arrival of a new migratory species.  Some pass through quickly, here for only a few days, while others settle in to nest.  Resident Baltimore and Orchard Orioles become a constant presence around the visitor center.  

As spring progresses, the forest becomes a paradise for plant and flower lovers; the open forest of winter is replaced by leafy plants that support a rich community of wildlife.


As spring subsides to summer, the forest becomes quieter.  Though a rich diversity of birds are still present, they are quieter as they raise their young.  The mid-day heat can feel oppressive, but is often broken by an afternoon thunderstorm.

The Ohio River is calm and green, a perfect place for people to recreate.  Beneath the placid surface of the river, more than fifty species of fish forage.  Vast mussel beds filter the water to feed, cleansing the river.


Warblers and shorebirds pass back through as they migrate south toward the tropics, but they are less abundant and have less colorful plumage than they did during the spring migration. If the songbird plumage looks bland, it is made up for by the brilliance of foliage as leaves turn from verdant to vermilion and gold.  

Waterfowl return for the winter, flooding into wetlands on the Ohio River floodplain and to the River itself. Here they typically will remain for the winter.


Migratory birds are gone, but a core group of resident species will stay for the winter. Thanks to the predominantly deciduous trees that make up the area forest, the winter resident birds are relatively easy to see. Bright red Northern Cardinals are striking when juxtaposed against the occasional snowfall.  

The Ohio River becomes turbulent and unpredictable.  It floods often, covering the floodplains in silt.  Sometimes the less turbulent backwaters, narrow channels between the islands and shore, may freeze over completely.  

The forests are open and quiet, as if nature is holding her breath, awaiting the coming Spring.

Featured Species

Mussels are important to the health of a river ecosystem. They are filter feeders, which helps reduce silt, sediment, and pollutants in the water. 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, northern riffleshell, purple cat's paw pearlymussel, rayed bean, snuffbox and clubshell.

A monarch butterfly on a yellow flower

Adult monarch butterflies are large and conspicuous, with bright orange wings surrounded by a black border and covered with black veins. The black border has a double row of white spots, present on the upper side of the wings. Adult monarchs are sexually dimorphic, with males having narrower...

FWS Focus

The snuffbox is a small- to medium-sized mussel, with males reaching up to 2.8 in (7.0 cm) in length (Cummings and Mayer 1992, p. 162; Parmalee and Bogan 1998, p. 108). The maximum length of females is about 1.8 in (4.5 cm) (Parmalee and Bogan 1998, p. 108). The shape of the shell is somewhat...

FWS Focus
Brown and black striated freshwater mussels sitting a steel truck bed

Shell surface: Many low, wide bumps run in a single file line down the outer shell surface, from the beak (the swelling above the point where the 2 shell halves join) to the opposite shell edge. The rest of the shell surface is smooth (without bumps), and looks slightly pressed-in from the beak...

FWS Focus