habitats and wildlife
Habitats and Wildlife at LRWP’s Preserves
LRWP’s preserves feature four main habitats: Wet/marshy areas, sedge meadows, forests, and prairies. Many wildlife species that are endangered or of special concern in Indiana need one or more of our wetland habitats to survive. Here is an overview of our habitats and some of the creatures that depend on them. Your contribution to LRWP helps ensure that their vital needs are met.
What Do You Know about Wet/Marshy Habitats and the Species that Live There?
Eagle Marsh has about 154 acres of wet/marshy habitats including ponds and other areas that are wet more than half the year. (To see where they are, click here to view the Eagle Marsh trail map). Arrowhead Marsh has 16 acres for a total of 170 acres at both preserves. These aren't the only areas that are wet at LRWP’s preserves, but they’re the wettest the longest! Read more about our wetlands’ other habitats, including sedge meadows that are wet less than half the year below. Many wildlife species that are endangered, threatened, or of special concern in Indiana need one or more of our wetland habitats to survive.
Special plants thrive in wet/marshy areas. In Indiana, we have lost many of our native rushes, grasses and sedges. We have seeded Eagle Marsh with species such as Frank’s sedge, soft rush, and wool grass. We have also planted beautiful flowering plants such as swamp milkweed, New England aster, Joe Pye weed, monkey flower, and obedient plant. Click here for a list of many of the native plant species at Eagle Marsh.
Wet/marshy habitats are home to a great number of reptiles, amphibians, and birds as well as mammals such as beavers, otters, and muskrats. Listed below are some of the imperiled Indiana wildlife species likely to make a home at our preserves. Let us know if you see one!
Black-crowned Night Herons, stocky black, white and grey birds that hunt fish and small crustaceans primarily at night, have already been seen at Eagle Marsh. Indiana endangered, these herons will stir the water with their beaks to try to attract prey. When they catch something, they can turn it around to swallow head-first and they do just fine digesting bones. The herons nest in colonies of up to a dozen nests that consist of a platform of sticks placed in trees or cattails. Their presence is considered an indicator of ecosystem health, and we hope a colony decides to nest at Eagle Marsh or Arrowhead Marsh soon.
Sandhill Cranes, grey with a red spot on their heads, are at nearly 5 feet tall one of America’s two largest birds, the other being the highly endangered Whooping Cranes that sometimes migrate with them. Sandhill Cranes have visited Eagle Marsh in migration. According to expert Mark Weldon, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo Animal Curator, a pair could well nest and hundreds might someday “stage” for weeks at a time at Eagle Marsh. Sandhill Cranes mate for life and need sedge meadows, uplands, and wet/marshy areas to breed and feed. Mated pairs engage in unison calling and in dancing, which includes various behaviors such as bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing, as well as wing flapping. Wouldn’t it be great to see all this at Eagle Marsh?
Indiana endangered Blanding’s Turtles, with their unmistakable yellow throats, may find Eagle Marsh a perfect set of habitats. They require clean, shallow water with dense vegetation for much of their life cycle, but may travel more than one-half mile over land to nest. In winter they hibernate in shallow water buried partly under soft organic substrates. The turtles can live up to 75 years, but they require large protected wetlands such as Eagle Marsh to survive. If none return to Eagle Marsh on their own, LRWP may seek to arrange with appropriate officials for reintroduction of this species since our habitats will be ideal for them.
What Are Sedges?
They’re plants that grow in wetland communities covered by shallow water less than half the year. And, “sedges have edges.” While the stems of grasses are round, sedge stems usually have three sides with a sharp demarcation between them—hence, “edges.” There are hundreds of sedge species native to Indiana.
More than sedges thrive in sedge meadows. Bulrushes and cattails are common. There are native cattails and invasive ones—fortunately, our experts know the difference and will try to keep the bad kind under control. Beautiful flowering plants, such as spotted Joe Pye weed and marsh marigold, also grow there.
Tussocks are found in some sedge meadows. According to the newsletter of the Michigan Nature Association, these small hills of plant matter are built by the tussock sedge Carex stricta as it accumulates soil, litter, roots and live shoots over time. While tussocks aren’t fun to walk through, they encourage biodiversity because the tops, sides, and bases differ in environmental conditions. In one study, each area of Carex stricta tussocks formed a microhabitat such that one tussock could support up to 16 additional plant species, including asters, goldenrod and moss. So get out your magnifying glass and watch our tussocks grow!
Many kinds of imperiled Indiana wildlife visit sedge meadows to find food or nest. But for Northern Leopard Frogs, Bitterns, and Short-eared Owls, these often soggy areas are vital. All three species not only flourish in sedge meadow habitats such as the one at Eagle Marsh. They also hide there, happiest if you don’t choose to walk too near.
American Bitterns and Least Bitterns, both state-endangered, migrate north to live in sedge meadows during spring and summer. Slender brown birds with lighter and darker vertical stripes, they hide by raising their beaks straight up to look like the tall vegetation around them. American Bitterns are about two feet high while the still rarer Least Bitterns, at 11-14 inches, are the smallest herons in North America. Heard more than seen, bitterns have a booming call that sounds like a congested pump. They eat amphibians, fish, insects and reptiles and build solitary nests among the cattails or bulrushes. Will you be the first to see a bittern at Eagle Marsh or Arrowhead Marsh?
Northern Leopard Frogs are numerous in only a few areas of Indiana. Luckily for us, LRWP’s preserves are full of this lovable species of special concern! Adult frogs, three to five inches long, are spotted black on green and lighter green, with white bellies. They eat mostly insects, worms, and small snakes. In spring and summer, males make a short snore-like call from the water. Females lay up to 6,500 eggs in wet areas, preferably where there are no fish. The tadpoles metamorphose into small adults after several months in water. Listen for these frogs when you visit Eagle Marsh or Arrowhead Marsh, or look closely and you may spot them trying to hide in wet areas or near the edge of ponds.
Short-eared Owls are the only owl species in this part of the country that nests on the ground—often in sedge meadows where, like the Bittern and Northern Leopard Frog, they can easily hide. They’re not really short-eared but have shorter tufts of feathers, resembling ears, on their heads than most other “eared” owls. About one foot in length, the Short-eared Owl has plumage mottled tawny to brown, a barred tail and wings and a streaked upper breast. While the Short-eared Owl pictured here is sitting in a tree, they use such perches mainly to rest before flying out low over marshes, sedge meadows, and prairies to find food. Also unusual for owls, they start hunting at dusk and continue all night and through the dawn. However, their meals are typically owl-like, consisting mostly of rodents such as mice and voles. Avid birders have seen the Short-eared Owl, an Indiana endangered species, at Eagle Marsh. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to spot one also at one of our night hikes or early one morning!
Forested Wetlands—Home for Eagles, Salamanders, and Bats!
With the approximately 85-acre Eagle Marsh Woods on the south border of Eagle Marsh and the 13-acre mature woods at Arrowhead Marsh, LRWP has a lot to offer wild creatures that depend on forests for food, breeding sites, or winter homes. We’ve also planted well over 200 acres of new trees and shrubs at Eagle Marsh and our Arrowhead preserves, ensuring more such habitat in the years to come. Most of the older trees and shrubs and all the new ones are native to this part of Indiana. Native Indiana wildlife, especially imperiled wildlife, depend on such native woodlands to survive.
State endangered American Bald Eagles, which already hunt at Eagle Marsh, may soon choose to nest in its new mature woods of red and silver maple, green ash, American elm, box elder, and other native trees. Bald Eagles, the most regal of American birds as well as our national symbol, eat mainly fish but also small animals, disabled waterfowl and carrion. They build large nests of sticks that can grow to weigh more than a ton when “remodeled” by interweaving more and more sticks on top of old ones over a period of years. Eagles mate for life and only one pair would be likely to nest at Eagle Marsh as eagles, like most birds, are territorial.
Learn more at American Bald Eagles here
Blue-spotted Salamanders, an Indiana species of special concern, have been seen at Eagle Marsh where the topography of the Eagle Marsh Woods includes small sandy ridges interspersed with wetter areas—ideal salamander habitat! These shy creatures spend most of their time in burrows in the ground or hiding under fallen logs or leaves, but in spring they rush for water to breed and lay many, many eggs. The baby salamanders later hatch and spend a month or so in the water, looking very much like tadpoles. Eventually they metamorphose into small adults and return to their regular home, the woods. Blue-spotted salamanders eat spiders, centipedes, slugs and earthworms among other creepy, crawly creatures. When attacked by a predator, their tails can detach and grow back again later.
The Eastern Pipistrelle bat, one of the smallest American bats, is another imperiled Indiana species that needs forests. Weighing less than 1/3 of an ounce and barely reaching 3 ½ inches in length, they can be mistaken for large moths. While they hibernate in winter in mines or caves, in summer they must find tree cavities or nest boxes such as the ones at Eagle Marsh to raise their young. These small reddish brown mammals hunt in or near their forest homes, near streams or over open water, making both Eagle Marsh and Arrowhead Marsh good places to call home. Eastern Pipistrelles fly in a floppy “butterfly” pattern and when hunting, can catch one insect every two seconds.
Almost 400 acres at Eagle Marsh, Arrowhead Marsh, and Arrowhead Prairie are planted in prairie grasses and forbs (wildflowers). Some of these grasslands are wetter, some dryer. Both wet and dry prairie habitats are a vital part of the fully functioning ecosystems our restored wetlands will soon become. They complement our preserves’ wet/marshy areas, sedge meadows, and wetter and dryer woods for wildlife dependent on grasslands for all or part of their life cycle.
While 85% of Indiana’s original wetlands have been destroyed, more than 99% of its native tallgrass prairies are gone. The statistics are not much better in other areas of the country. To try to restore this important habitat, we have planted a variety of native grasses at our three preserves, including big and little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass. We’ve also planted wonderful wildflowers already growing in many areas. Watch for five different kinds of asters, four different sunflowers, common and swamp milkweed, Joe Pye weed, and the lovely wild bergamot (monarda) among others. The prairie grasses and wildflowers are not only beautiful. They also provide food and cover for all sorts of birds, small mammals, and insects such as butterflies.
Grassland birds all over America have declined precipitously due to reduced foraging and nesting sites. Their nests are especially vulnerable in farm fields that will be mowed and even in prairies that are small or have insufficient cover. At least four grassland birds that are endangered in Indiana have visited LRWP’s preserves: the Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Peregrine Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. All of these hunt over prairies for their prey of small mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds.
Northern Harriers also nest on the ground. They are slender, long-winged raptors almost two feet in length, with the female larger. While hunting, they fly low with wings held up in a slight "V” and are easily recognized by their white rump. Harriers, like owls, use sounds to help find their prey. We have seen Northern Harriers hunting at both Eagle Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie and hope they are nesting there as well.
Another Indiana endangered ground nester is the Upland Sandpiper, a secretive bird about one foot tall, with a long neck and long yellow legs. The only sandpipers not closely associated with water, they hunt and nest in grasslands, preferring areas of at least 40 acres. Their call is a series of descending whistles. Wouldn’t it be great to host a colony of these wonderful birds at Eagle Marsh soon?
Imperiled butterflies also depend heavily on prairie habitats. Flowers in most backyard gardens are exotics from which butterflies may sip nectar, but the leaves of which their caterpillars cannot eat. Even with the recent trend toward native gardens, the need for caterpillar host plants is great. Many varieties of butterflies are in decline worldwide due to habitat loss, pesticides, and other hazards. Among these, monarchs are probably the most recognized. Many are found at LRWP preserves visiting our numerous wildflowers including milkweed plants, where adult monarchs lay their eggs. At Eagle Marsh we have seen up to eleven monarch caterpillars on one milkweed.
Can you help LRWP enhance our habitats for imperiled wildlife, carry out our wetland restoration and conservation efforts, and continue our free nature education programs? The birds, frogs, turtles, salamanders, and other wild creatures are depending on you!