Photos by Michael Furtman

February 1, 2019

Illinois Waterfowl Magnet Set for Improvement

Like a bustling rest area on a major interstate highway, the Confluence Region of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers is one of North America’s busiest corridors for migrating ducks.

Ducks Unlimited (DU) has numerous projects in motion to improve the wetlands in this expansive duck resting area. In southwestern Illinois at the aptly named Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (parts of Calhoun, Jersey and Greene counties), DU is restoring about 500 acres of moist soil and hemi-marsh wetlands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) established the refuge more than 60 years ago as a migratory bird refuge. Today, its 9,000 acres of floodplain habitat is at the meeting of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The refuge is surrounded by more than 20,000 acres of floodplain wetlands managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In 2017, waterfowl numbers on the refuge peaked at more than 300,000 ducks.

DU and the USFWS will restore and enhance unused agricultural fields at Two Rivers by installing berms, water-management structures and pumps to allow refuge staff to mimic historic natural flooding. This will create moist-soil habitat at the preferred water depths of a foot or less for foraging waterfowl and shorebirds.

Agricultural fields undergoing restoration.

“As Ducks Unlimited looks to expand our conservation efforts northward along the Mississippi over the next few years, this Two Rivers project in the heart of our Confluence Priority Area is the perfect stepping-off point to expand our Upper Mississippi conservation program,” said Michael Sertle, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist in Illinois.

Aside from providing broad biological dinner plates for foraging waterfowl, the wetlands in the Confluence Region are critical for holding rainwater and preventing flooding. A lack of confluence wetlands made flooding disasters like those of 1993 much worse. During that historic flood, more than 1,000 flood protection levees failed, 70,000 buildings were damaged, and 50 people lost their lives.

The Two Rivers project is expected to be complete in 2020.

Chris Sebastian may be reached at

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