Iowa’s Wildlife Habitat

Habitat is where an animal lives. It must contain food, water, shelter, and space in an arrangement that benefits the animal. Each animal has different habitat requirements. Some may need a special food or a certain amount of space to survive. Iowa has a variety of habitats that support a diversity of wildlife species. We must protect, conserve, and expand Iowa’s remaining habitats in order to preserve and enhance the present diversity of wildlife. The resources below provide information about Iowa-specific habitats.

Iowa-Relevant Project WILD Activities

Activities with supplemental information are linked below.

Animal Poetry
(3-5, 6-8)
Career Critters
(3-5, 6-8)
Changing the Land
Fire Ecologies
(3-5, 6-8)
Habitat Circles
(3-5, 6-8)
Habitat Heroes
(3-5, 6-8, 9-12)
Map that Habitat
(3-5, 6-8)
Migration Barriers
(6-8, 9-12)
My Kingdom for a Shelter
(K-2, 3-5, 6-8)
Raindrops and Ranges
(6-8, 9-12)
Urban Nature Search
(3-5, 6-8)
What Bear (Bird) Goes Where?
(K-2, 3-5)
Which Niche?
(3-5, 6-8)

Supplemental Resources


Iowa has diverse forests that provide a wide range of wildlife habitat. Forests support a wide array of birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, and reptiles.


Savannas and prairies are adapted to periodic fires and dry, sunny conditions in Iowa’s plains and the Loess Hills. Prairie once was the dominant habitat in Iowa with savannas dotting the expanse of tall prairie grasses. Each habitat had its own unique community of plants and animals.


Edge is an area of transition between two or more distinct habitats. The most distinct edge habitat is between forest and grassland. The edge of a forest receives more sunlight than under the forest canopy, so more shrubs and grasses are found here.

  • On Edge: Managing Edge for Wildlife – Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – An article (pdf) on edge habitat, it’s benefits as well as how to manage these areas for wildlife.

Aquatic Habitats

Iowa has several aquatic communities, each with their own distinct plants and animals. Wetlands, lakes and ponds, and rivers and streams are typical aquatic habitats in Iowa. Government agencies and private organizations are taking steps to assure water quality and conserve these crucial aquatic habitats.


Wetlands have saturated soil for various lengths of time during the growing season. They vary in shape, size, and location. They usually are low spots in the land where water gathers naturally. Depressions created as the last glaciers receded thousands of years ago make the most common kind of wetland in Iowa, prairie potholes.

Lakes and Ponds

Lakes and ponds are deeper and have less standing vegetation than wetlands. Iowa has more than 87,000 farm ponds, mostly in the southern two-thirds of the state. Naturally occurring lakes are found in northwest and north-central Iowa, but most lakes are formed by damming rivers, streams, or valleys. Many plants and animals found in wetlands are found in these waters also. Lakes generally have a more diverse fishery than ponds because they are larger and the water is deeper. They also provide brood rearing and resting areas for migratory birds.

Rivers and Streams

Rivers and streams are abundant in Iowa and support a variety of plants and animals. Many Iowa river corridors are lined by trees. These provide roosts for bald eagles, herons, and other fish-eating birds. Bank swallows commonly bore holes for their homes in river banks. River otters hunt for fish. Beavers build dams that create new wetland habitats.

River fish and plants are well equipped for life in flowing water. Plants are firmly anchored. Smallmouth bass, northern pike, and channel catfish have streamlined bodies, reducing their resistance to the current.

Human-Built Environments

Human-built environments can provide habitat for animals. These can include agricultural lands, yards, and even urban areas.

Habitat: Quality, Quantity, and Arrangement

Habitat includes food, water, shelter, and space. The numbers and kinds of wildlife in an area are directly related to the quality, quantity, and arrangement of the habitat.

Habitat Fragmentation and Loss


Succession in a plant community can be defined as a process of change in the species composition of the community over time. Succession is ongoing.


Habitat arrangement can greatly affect survival rates of certain animals. An animal might have to travel long distances, possibly crossing open, unsheltered areas, to get water–exposing it to predation. Locating food sources and thick cover or sheltered areas near one another and close to a water source can increase winter survival for pheasants and other wildlife. Biologists consider habitat size, composition, and arrangement when developing management plans for different species.
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