Prairie Ridge State Natural Area is the only large grassland habitat in the entire Southern Till Plain Natural Division of Illinois. The area, located near the town of Newton in southeastern Illinois, lies in two non-contiguous counties -- Marion and Jasper.
This wildlife area represents the only remaining place east of the Mississippi River where the Greater Prairie-Chicken can be found on historical grounds. The first part of this sanctuary was purchased in 1961 to arrest the decline of this species. Further land acquisition has brought the site to roughly 1,700 acres in Jasper County alone.
Two landowners, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Audubon Society, work in partnership to manage the site. Adjoining landowners of agricultural property sometimes participate in research projects.
Prairie Ridge State Natural Area provides habitat for the state's only breeding population of the Greater Prairie-Chicken, and the state's largest breeding populations of Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier. Grassland and wetland habitat provide nesting grounds for American and Least Bitterns; King Rail; Upland Sandpiper; Barn Owl; Eastern Meadowlark; Loggerhead Shrike; Henslow's and Grasshopper Sparrows; Dickcissel; and Sedge Wren.
The natural area also provides habitat for five species of rail, including Yellow, during migration.
This site was chosen as an IBA because it met the criteria for Shorebirds, and breeding Greater Prairie-chicken, American Bittern, King Rail, Upland Sandpiper, Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Sedge Wren, Loggerhead Shrike, Henslow's Sparrow, and Dicksissel.
Threats include human disturbance (mainly trespassers, especially by those riding all-terrain vehicles), natural events (wet springs and nest predation), non-native plant introductions, and infrastructure, which can cause power line kills.
Grasslands comprise most of the reserve, with some deciduous forests and marshlands.