U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
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Upper Mississippi River National
Wildlife & Fish Refuge

couple in canoe on water with wooded bank behind
51 East 4th Street
Winona, MN   55987
E-mail: uppermississippiriver@fws.gov
Phone Number: 507-452-4232
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Exploring the backwaters by canoe is just one way to enjoy "Upper Miss" Refuge.
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  Wildlife and Habitat

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Millions of songbirds, including warblers, vireos, thrushes and sparrows use the Mississippi River corridor as their migration route. Thousands of tundra swans rest and feed here from October until freeze-up, while hundreds of thousands of diving ducks, including canvasbacks, redheads, lesser scaup, ringnecks, buffleheads and ruddy ducks use the open water areas. Mallards, wigeon, gadwalls, teal and other dabbling ducks gather in the shallow backwaters. Due to the loss of wetlands throughout the Upper Midwest, the Upper Mississippi River represents some of the only migrational habitat left for many of these species.

The river is often referred to as pools, defined by the locks and dams. The braided stream zone is found in the upper portion of each pool, where narrow cuts and channels snake between islands of floodplain forests. This zone resembles the river prior to lock and dam construction. Here you might see wood ducks, woodpeckers or an elusive river otter.

The backwater marsh zone, in the middle of each pool, is where shallow water lies over old hay meadows. This zone supports the best marsh habitat and is the haunt of dabbling ducks, muskrats, bass and panfish.

The open water zone, just upstream of each lock and dam, is where old tree stumps lurk, a reminder this was once a forest prior to the construction of the dams. Diving ducks prefer this open water area.

Over time, these navigation pools have aged, and habitats have changed. Sediment is filling valuable backwaters; islands are eroding; and vegetation is disappearing from the river. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the public and other state and federal agencies explore ways to restore river habitats.

One method of restoring river habitats is through the Environmental Management Program (EMP), a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state natural resource departments and others. Thousands of acres of fish and wildlife habitat have already been restored by rebuilding and protecting islands from erosion and constructing dikes to control water levels. Water level management also includes drawdowns. This is a temporary water level reduction of 1-2 feet during summer months which stimulates aquatic plant growth.

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