The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge extends along 260 miles of the Mississippi River from Wabasha, Minnesota to Rock Island, Illinois. The Refuge includes more than 200,000 acres within four districts that have respective staff and jurisdictions.

Management of the District covers Navigational Pools 12, 13, and 14. Nearly 46,000 acres of land owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are managed for wildlife.

In its northern portion, the Refuge lies within the Driftless Area, a region of North America that escaped being ice-covered during the last ice age. Certain parcels contained within the refuge were later transferred in the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge.

The Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge was established by an Act of Congress on June 7, 1924, as a "refuge and breeding place for migratory birds, fish, other wildlife, and plants."

Ornithological Summary

The Upper Missisippi National Wildlife Refuge contains abundant habitat for wetland- and water-dependent species. Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl migrate through the refuge. These include Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and Tundra Swan. Shorebirds and wading birds stalk prey along the shorelines and shallow backwaters when water levels are appropriate.

The refuge offers important wintering habitat for thousands of Bald Eagles.

The Mississippi River corridor also provides unique habitat for the spring and fall migrations of many species of neotropical migrant songbirds.

This site was chosen as an IBA because it met the criteria for Waterfowl, Wading Birds, Shorebirds, Raptors and breeding Sandhill Crane, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Brown Creeper.

Conservation Issues

Erosion and encroachment of non-native plants along with industrial and residential development threaten this wildlife refuge. Zebra mussels are replacing native mussels, clams and snails. Non-native purple loosestrife causes the degradation of many prime wetland habitats. Sediment deposition due to natural causes, upland erosion, channel operation and maintenance activities, along with tow traffic have caused and continue to cause deposition, the result of which will be backwaters reverting more rapidly to upland. Housing, industrial, and other developments along the shoreline and in surrounding uplands will affect water quality through increased erosion and pollution. The cumulative effects of numerous small projects will result in increased disturbances and loss of habitat. Increased barge and recreational boat traffic resulting from improved, expansion, or development of new barge terminals or marinas will no doubt adversely affect wildlife habitats.

The Mississippi River water quality is affected by both point and nonpoint pollution. Although localized problems may occur as a result of point pollution, the most severe water pollution problems are attributed to nonpoint pollution, including excessive loadings of suspended solids and sediments and the contamination of sediments by toxic materials.


This vast refuge contains wet-mesic floodplain forest, a major low-gradient river, backwater lakes and ponds and numerous marshes.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.