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Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

Site Facts

Country, State, Province/Region:

United States of America, Illinois

Relative Location:

Mason County


40° 22’ N, 90° 00’ W



Basis for Designation:

Supports more than 20,000 shorebirds annually.


4,488 acres


February 1997

Site Owner/Steward:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Site Partners:

Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges
Illinois Natural History Survey

Human Population within 100 km:

Approximately 690,000 people,. Larger cities include Peoria, Pekin, Springfield, Havana, Beardstown, Canton, and Jacksonville.


Bob Barry, Refuge Manager
Tel. 309-535-2290
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

About Us

The 4,488-acre Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) contains 3,700 acres of wetlands, 715 acres of bottomland forests, and 220 acres of uplands. The remaining acres consist of infrastructure such as roads and buildings. The wetland habitats on the refuge are very diverse and can include mudflats, shallow marshes, deepwater areas, and flowing creeks and ditches. The bottomland forest consists mostly of willow (Salix sp.) and maple (Acer sp.) trees and the uplands are mostly made up of bottomland hardwoods.  

Management of the refuge is designed to mimic the historic flood cycle of the Illinois River. Summer drawdowns expose mudflats and promote the production of natural vegetation. Up to 2,000 acres of habitat will be available for migratory and resident bird species dependant on these shallow water and mudflat habitats.

To allow for a more complete draw-down of the north pool, a project is under way to remove the silt dam that currently prevents water from flowing into the drainage ditch along the cross dike. As a result of this management, the refuge expects to provide an additional 300-500 acres of shallow mudflat habitat for shorebirds.

The Guide to National Wildlife Refuges (Riley 1979) cites “tremendous concentrations of shorebirds” at Chautauqua Refuge, especially in August. “As many as 200,000 have been present at one time on the exposed mudflats and shorelines of Chautauqua Lake: Lesser Yellowlegs, Golden Plovers, and Pectoral, Stilt, and Least Sandpipers.” In the checklist of birds for the refuge, the fall migration peak for shorebirds listed is 150,000.

Chautauqua Refuge is of critical importance to migratory birds including waterfowl, Neotropical migrants, raptors, and marsh and waterbirds. More than 250 bird, 28 mammal, 64 reptile and amphibian, and 54 fish species have been identified on the refuge. During spring and summer migrations, historical peak numbers of shorebirds that use the refuge are as follows:

Greater Yellowlegs - 1,000
Killdeer - 3,200
Lesser Yellowlegs - 8,000
Pectoral Sandpiper - 5,000
Semipalmated Sandpipers – 5,000
Spotted Sandpipers - 100

In the News

Nature, agriculture coexist in Mason County

Ecology & Conservation 

Land Use:
Hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife observation, nature photography, environmental education and interpretation, and nut, berry, and mushroom picking.

The refuge is open for wildlife observation from Jan. 15 through Oct. 15 (except areas posted as closed).  From Oct. 16 through Jan. 14 the land from the Refuge Headquarters north to Eagle Bluffs access area is open for wildlife observation.  The closed area is used as feeding and resting areas for migrating birds.

Current Threats:
Chautauqua is a floodplain wetland of the Illinois River. Average river levels have risen more then 5 feet over the last 100 years due to levee construction and modifications to the river. With an extremely altered floodplain ecosystem, the Illinois River no longer has its historic flood cycle. Unnatural rises in river levels during summer and fall inundate the backwaters, flooding exposed mudflats and covering natural vegetation. Exotic and nuisance species, such as Asian carp, and willow (woody vegetation) encroachment are also threats to Chautauqua’s habitat.

Research and Management Activities:
By mimicking the historic flood pulse of the Illinois River, Chautauqua can provide water levels and conditions critical to sediment management and annual plant and invertebrate production. Using river flooding events and water-control structures, habitat can be made available for migrating birds when it is needed most.

Several ongoing inventory and monitoring activities are conducted on the refuge, including the International Shorebird Survey, Illinois Natural History Survey aerial waterfowl surveys, the Audubon Christmas and Spring Bird Counts, Mid-winter Waterfowl Surveys, and nesting Bald Eagles surveys. Dr. Richard and Sigurd Bjorklund, refuge volunteers, have been conducting weekly waterbird surveys on the refuge since 1996 that include wading birds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors.

Research is also conducted on the refuge by the Forbes Biological Field Station and the Illinois River Biological Station, both part of Illinois Natural History Survey. The results from their research benefit the management of the refuge.


Special Information

National Wildlife Refuge week occurs every year in October. The refuge auto tour loop is open when conditions allow.

The refuge celebrates Migratory Bird Day every year in May. The refuge auto tour loop is open when conditions allow.

Refuge staff take part in Eagle Days which happens every year in January. Events take place at Dickson-Mound Museum and in Havana, IL.

The refuge is currently working on its Habitat Management Plan which is a step-down plan from the Comprehensive Conservation Plan. The draft plan is under review and is expected to be completed later in 2015.



Site Contact

Bob Barry
Refuge Manager
19031 E. County Road, 2110N
Havana, IL 62644
Tel. 309-535-2290
Fax 309-535-3023
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

Site Partners

Dr. Heath Hagy
Station Director
Illinois Natural History Survey
Forbes Biological Station
20003 County Road 1770E
PO Box 590
Havana, IL 62644

Dr. Steve Havera
Waterfowl Ecologist Emeritus
Illinois Natural History Survey
Forbes Biological Station
20003 County Road 1770E
PO Box 590
Havana, IL 62644

Dr. Andy Casper
Station Director
Illinois Natural History Survey
Illinois River Biological Station
704 North Schrader
Havana, IL 62644

Additional Resources


Bellrose, Frank, Donald Steffick, and Fred Paveglio, Jr. “Waterfowl Populations and the Changing Environment of the Illinois River Valley.” Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin, Vol. 22, Article 1, August 1979.

Bowyer, M.W., J.D. Stafford, A.P. Yetter, C.S. Hine, M.M. Horath and S. P. Havera. 2005. Moist-soil plant seed production for waterfowl at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois. American Midland Naturalist 154:331-341.

Havera, S. P. 1999. Waterfowl of Illinois: status and management. Illinois Natural History Survey Publication 21. xliii + 628 pp.

Illinois River NWR Website

Jones, John Oliver. “Where the Birds Are.” William Marrow and Company, Inc., 1990, 400 pp.

Riley, L. and W. Riley. 1979. Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges: How to Get There What to See and Do. Anchor Press/Double Day. Garden City, New York. 653 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2004. Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 441 pp.

Refuge brochure and bird list are available.