The Illinois River valley is a critical migratory corridor that is also used by breeding waterfowl. The basin drains 28,500 square miles and is home to more than 11 million people. Less than 1% of the prairie remains. Human alterations of this landscape have made the Illinois River the most degraded and threatened segment of the Upper Mississippi River system: less than 50% of the original flood plain habitat remains and nearly all of the 500,000 acre Grand Kankakee Marsh has disappeared. Despite these declines, 25% of all ducks in the Mississippi flyway still use the Illinois River as a migratory corridor.
Most waterfowl habitat occurs in the middle and lower reaches of the Illinois River, hence conservation activities have been concentrated in these areas. DU’s approach in the middle reaches has been to “fill in the corridor” by attempting to provide habitat along the expanse of the river for dabbling and diving ducks. These activities have been primarily acquisition followed by restoration designed for fall migration dabbling ducks. There is a great need to do habitat work for diving ducks in both spring and fall. Restoring ecological integrity to the system is the overall focus of restoration and protection work in this area for both breeding and wintering/staging waterfowl. Private lands work, primarily on duck clubs, exists all along the river generally via enhancement of existing marshes with the addition of new management capability. Restoring ecological integrity to the system is the overall focus of restoration and protection work in this area for both breeding and wintering/staging waterfowl.
The Illinois River priority area meets several life cycle needs of waterfowl: predominantly breeding in the upper watershed around Lake Michigan and wintering and migration habitat in the middle and lower watershed. The production area spans Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Wood ducks and Canada geese also nest in the watershed.