The Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge IBA is located in the southwestern Indiana in Gibson and Pike Counties. Established in 1994, the refuge area represents one of the most significant bottomland hardwood forests in the Midwest and boasts one of the most rich and abundant bird communities in the state.

Currently, the federally-owned refuge encompasses 5380 acres, although 22,083 acres of surrounding land have been approved for acquisition. This Important Bird Area includes 19 miles of cut-off river oxbows and 7000 acres of bottomland forested wetlands, which is considered the most imperiled wetland type in Indiana and the Midwest.

Ornithological Summary

Unfortunately, Indiana has lost approximately 87% of its original wetland acreage, and, in parallel with the resultant destruction and degradation of floodplain forest and associated wetlands, a multitude of the bird species that depend on these habitats have suffered precipitous population declines. Because the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge represents one of the most significant bottomland hardwood forests remaining in the Midwest, this Important Bird Area clearly supports some of the largest populations of bird species in the state which are know to rely on various types of palustrine habitat, which includes forested wetlands, shrublands, and herbaceous wetlands.

The avian species richness and overall diversity in the palustrine forests of this IBA is quite incredible and perhaps is only rivaled in Indiana by the combined larger watersheds along the Ohio River to the southwest or the sizeable unfragmented upland forests in southern Indiana, such as those found in the Hoosier National Forest. At least 10 WatchList species can be found nesting within the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge - examples include Red-headed Woodpecker, Cerulean Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Kentucky Warbler. In fact, breeding bird surveys show that Prothonotary Warblers are the second most common nesting birds within the IBA; at least 1000 pairs of these birds are thought to nest along the Patoka River. Additionally, priority grassland birds, such as Dickcissel and Henslow?s Sparrow, can be found at this IBA in conjunction with the aforementioned forest-dependent birds, thanks to a 1000+ acre reclaimed strip mine in the immediate vicinity of the watershed.

Several bird species classified as endangered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources also breed here, including American Bittern, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Bald Eagle. The presence of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons is especially significant, as the Patoka watershed may represent the only reliable breeding territory for this bird in Indiana.

Estimates for listed birds were derived from Hurley's point counts and respective study within the refuge. His final report supplies relative abundance (number per census points, 70 meter count radius). Abundance for all habitats (n=181) was divided by count area to calculate a density approximation for each species. This was then applied to total acreage within the refuge. Given the number of points utilized (n=181), sampling should be considered statistically sufficient for these order of magnitude approximations.

Conservation Issues

Because the Patoka River often floods, additional channelization and ditching continually threaten this rivering habitat. Timber harvest, conversion to agriculture and fragmentation of forested tracts for homes and hunting camps also threaten the refuge. Increasing land values have resulted in the sale of a number of Refuge inholdings to private buyers. Additionally, southern Indiana is entering one of its greatest growth phases in history. Construction of several manufacturing plants within 40 miles of the Refuge, an expansion of interstate 69 bisecting the property, and the secondary development from an influx of new residents are ongoing threats.

In order to increase the amount of land owned by the Refuge and help buffer its wildlife from the developments listed above, an offer has been made to purchase 1000+ acres along the eastern edge of Snakey Point Marsh; this land includes a portion of grassland that supports a significant population of Henslow's Sparrow. Unfortunately, the requested funding for the purchase was denied by Congress for FY-06; federal appropriations for this purchase are critical for FY-07. This collective property is critical to Patoka River NWR based on its size, diversity of habitat, and the pending threat of being sub-divided and sold.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.