Coastal Wetlands

Priority Region: St. Louis River Estuary

Least Bittern. Photo: Joshua Galicki/Audubon Photography Awards.
Least Bittern. Photo: Joshua Galicki/Audubon Photography Awards.
Coastal Wetlands

Priority Region: St. Louis River Estuary

Protecting Birds in the St. Louis River Estuary Region

The St. Louis River is the largest tributary of Lake Superior. At the river's mouth, on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota, is a massive complex of wetlands that provide habitat for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds as well as declining species of breeding marsh birds. 

Breeding marsh bird species include American Bittern, Least Bittern, Black Tern, and Yellow-headed Blackbird, all of which are Wisconsin Species of Greatest Conservation Need, depend on a unique habitat complex commonly referred to as hemi-marsh, which has disappeared across the Great Lakes region in parallel with population declines of these species. 

Drastically fluctuating lake levels have disrupted the delicate conditions that hemi-marsh habitat needs to thrive in the St. Louis River Estuary region. Now, Audubon Great Lakes is working to improve habitat quality and revitalize breeding marsh bird populations. 

Working in the Areas Where Birds Need Us Most 

The St. Louis River Estuary region has been identified by Audubon scientists as one of the 12 most important coastal wetlands 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

Audubon Great Lakes is working with partners to coordinate landscape-scale protection and restoration of high-priority coastal wetlands along the entire estuary. This work is focused on the highest- opportunity wetlands where the growth of invasive cattails has led to reduced productivity for birds, such as Allouez Bay. Restoration strategies will protect sensitive areas from climate change impacts and adapt to changing conditions driven by climate change. 

History of the Region 

The St. Louis River Estuary, an Audubon Important Bird Area in Wisconsin and Minnesota,  has suffered from a legacy of industrial pollutants, and was once one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. Despite this, much of the intact marshes remain in relatively high-quality condition, supporting exceptional bird diversity during migration and nesting seasons. 

More than 240 bird species have been recorded within the estuary, and its numerous bays, islands, wetlands, barrier beaches, and forested areas provide diverse habitat for breeding birds and birds that are migrating through. Many of these species are facing steep population declines. Black Terns, once common, have not bred in the estuary since the 1990s. 

Project Partners & Supporters 

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

Project Partners:

Wisconsin DNR

Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Minnesota Land Trust

Douglas County

University of Minnesota-Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI)

UW-Superior/Lake Superior Research Institute

Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science

St Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin

Friends of Lake Superior Reserve

Duluth Audubon Society

City of Superior

Chequamegon Audubon Society
Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve  


Audubon’s work in St. Louis River Estuary region is supported by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

Stay Up-To-Date: The Latest on Our Work in the St. Louis River Estuary Region

Getting Birdy in the St. Louis River Estuary
St. Louis River Estuary

Getting Birdy in the St. Louis River Estuary

Join us in helping to learn more about how exactly birds use this amazing freshwater ecosystem by getting out, watching, and recording