Coastal Wetlands

Priority Region: Calumet

Restoring the coastal wetlands of Illinois and Indiana for the benefit of vulnerable marsh birds
Coastal Wetlands

Priority Region: Calumet

Restoring the coastal wetlands of Illinois and Indiana for the benefit of vulnerable marsh birds

Protecting Birds in the Calumet Region

The Calumet region, which encompasses the southern shore of Lake Michigan, and spans across Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, has a long history of industry and an even longer history of rich biodiversity. Once cosisting of nearly 45,000 acres of marsh and wet prairie, breeding marsh bird populations were decimated as wetlands were lost to factories and industry. Now, Audubon Great Lakes is working to restore the critical wetland habitat birds need to thrive, for the benefit of wildlife and local communities. 

Working in the Areas Where Birds Need Us Most 

The Calumet region has been identified by Audubon scientists as one of the 12 most important coastal wetland regions across the Great Lakes that are most important to conserve or restore for vulnerable marsh birds. Audubon Great Lakes is working with partners in each of these priority regions to coordinate landscape-scale bird monitoring and habitat restoration.

Explore Audubon’s Vision: Restoring the Great Lakes for Birds and People to see Audubon's plans to address the biggest threats facing birds and people. 

Our Restoration Work

To date Audubon Great Lakes has restored over 2,000 acres of critical coastal wetlands in the Calumet region and, through collaborative planning and science delivery, helped guide partners and landowners to restore an additional 4,200 wetland acres. 

Thanks to the efforts of Audubon Great Lakes and partners, the 40-year trend of marsh bird population declines are stabilizing, and several species populations are increasing in breeding abundance in newly restored wetlands. Restored Calumet wetlands are also improving water quality and helping communities adapt to intensified precipitation events and rapid fluctuations of Great Lakes’ water levels.

History of the Region 

The Calumet Region was once home to thousands of acres of sprawling wetlands that provided rich and abundant habitat for wildlife and plants. As development migrated south and east from Chicago in the last 1800's heavy industry began to dominate the region. Despite this massive land conversion, the patchwork of marshes that remained still continued to support incredible biodiversity. However, from the 1990s to the mid-2010s, further degradation of those wetlands resulted in significant losses of biodiversity.

Breeding marsh bird populations, which provide an excellent indication of environmental quality were decimated. Black Tern and Yellow-headed Blackbird were functionally extirpated (meaning they became locally extinct) from the region after breeding there for centuries. Other bird species, including the Least Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, and Common Gallinule were on a similar trajectory. These birds depend on a dynamic ecosystem called hemimarsh (a wetland that is roughly equal parts open water and emergent vegetation or plant life) to thrive. Threats facing the region including altered hydrology, climate change and invasive species have caused hemimarsh to all but disappear from the region.

Despite these incredible challenges, the region still serves as a major stopover for migratory birds that depend on the areas remaining wetlands and habitat to rest on their long migration journeys and to nest and breed. 

Project Partners & Supporters 

Audubon Great Lakes is grateful to project partners and supporters who make our work possible. 

Project Partners:

Supporters: 

Audubon’s work in Calumet wetlands is supported by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Great Lakes Commission, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Walder Foundation. 

Our Projects in the Calumet Region

Marsh Bird Monitoring
Marsh Bird Monitoring

Marsh Bird Monitoring Hub

New interactive data tool helping inform restoration efforts in the Calumet Region for birds and people.

Read more

More Than 100 Acres of Wetlands to be Restored on Southeast Side of Chicago
Coastal Wetlands

Restoring Habitat at Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve

Connecting two lakes to reestablish more than 100 acres of vital marsh habitat that marsh birds rely on.

Read more

Audubon Launches New Restoration and Community Engagement Initiatives in Northwest Indiana
News

Restoring 10 Miles of the Little Calumet River

Wetland restoration projects taking place at four sites along the Little Calumet River in Northwest Indiana.

Read more

Habitat Restoration Internship Program
Conservation

Restoration Internship Program

Building the next generation of conservation leaders.

Read more

Wild Indigo Nature Explorations
Bird-Friendly Communities

Wild Indigo Nature Explorations

Building lasting relationships between urban communities of color and their local natural areas.

Read more

Stay Up-To-Date: The Latest on Our Work in the Calumet Region

Audubon Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Interns Restore Bird Habitat on Chicago’s Southwest Side
Blog

Audubon Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Interns Restore Bird Habitat on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Internship program kick starting careers in environmentalism and conservation

New Study Tracks Waterbird Use of Chicago-area Wetlands
News

New Study Tracks Waterbird Use of Chicago-area Wetlands

Research shows that wetland birds are using Chicagoland wetlands, despite the heavy surrounding urbanization

“Bird the Preserves” During Fall Migration Season
Press Center

“Bird the Preserves” During Fall Migration Season

The Forest Preserves of Cook County offers hotspots like Eggers Grove, a hidden gem for birding on Chicago’s Southeast Side

Geese and Muskrats, Unlikely Neighbors
Blog

Geese and Muskrats, Unlikely Neighbors

Raising young in Calumet marshes is challenging for birds and mammals.

Indiana Poll Reveals Strong Bipartisan Support for Protecting Wetlands
News

Indiana Poll Reveals Strong Bipartisan Support for Protecting Wetlands

Weakening clean water protections is unpopular across party lines

Habitat Restoration Progress at Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve
Coastal Wetlands

Habitat Restoration Progress at Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve

Construction underway at major habitat restoration project in the Calumet Region

Working to Keep the Great Lakes “Great” for the Birds that Need It the Most
Blog

Working to Keep the Great Lakes “Great” for the Birds that Need It the Most

How the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is supporting Audubon Great Lakes' and partners' work to protect vulnerable birds across the Great Lakes region

Marsh Bird Monitoring Protects Vulnerable Species and Enhances Understanding of Conservation Areas in the Great Lakes
Blog

Marsh Bird Monitoring Protects Vulnerable Species and Enhances Understanding of Conservation Areas in the Great Lakes

Highlights from the monitoring season include 26 monitors, 1,600 observations and rare bird sightings

National Invasive Species Awareness Week
Blog

National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Audubon Great Lakes working to combat invasive species to improve habitat for birds and people

Audubon Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Internship Program Building the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders
Blog

Audubon Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Internship Program Building the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

Providing Hands-On Experience in Habitat Restoration for the Benefit of Birds and Their Communities