This is one of the few IBAs in the state that provides public access to the Mississippi River proper, including sandbar habitats. Shipland also has extensive second growth bottomland hardwood forests with sycamores and cottonwoods lining the rivers edge.
As for birds, the site is best known for its colonies of nesting Interior Least Terns. These birds are found on the extensive Ajax Bar complex of sandbars. Migratory shorebirds rest and feed on mudflats associated with the sandbars. Other water birds, including Wood Stork, rest and feed on the mudflats. In 2002, up to 1,000 shorebirds of 13 species were found at Shipland. Much of the site consists of bottomland hardwood forest, which harbors nesting and migratory landbirds. The site also contains a small sand field, a grassland habitat that warrants further investigation into the birds it may support.
The management of the terrestrial portion of this IBA focuses on game animals, especially White-tailed Deer and Wild Turkey. There is no management for non-game birds, although the bottomland hardwood forests are important to many non-game bird species. At issue in the riverine habitats is how management for navigation traffic on the Mississippi River affects bird life, especially the threatened Interior Least Tern. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has altered stone dikes to allow more water to pass and therefore further isolate the sandbars from the river bank. This helps protect the terns from mammalian predators. Any additional measures of this kind should be explored. Tern colonies also should be protected from human disturbance during the nesting season. An investigation of the level of disturbance on the Ajax Bar complex is warranted.