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Lake Onalaska
Protection & Rehabilitation District

Our Amazing Wildlife and Fish

The 261-miles of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (of which Lake Onalaska is a part), lists:

Canvasback Ducks and Wild Celery

Pair of Canvasback ducks swimming. Photo: Calibas
Wild Celery
Protecting canvasback ducks on their vital migration “refueling” stop on pools 7,8, and 9 has long been the over-riding management concern on the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge, including Lake Onalaska. Canvasback breed on Canadian prairie provinces and typically fly nonstop to Wisconsin, where they must feed to replenish body fat “fuel” for their next nonstop flight to Chesapeake Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. Until the 1950s, canvasback “refueled” in eastern Wisconsin (lakes Poygan, Puckaway, Butte des Morts etc). However, the luxuriant wild celery beds in the eastern Wisconsin lakes on which canvasback fed were decimated by pollution in the 1950s. Miraculously, at this same time, wild celery beds began to flourish on the newly-created reservoirs of the upper Mississippi River.
Winter Root Buds
of Wild Celery

Canvasback responded by shifting their migration to western Wisconsin. Neither canvasback nor wild celery were abundant on the upper Mississippi until the construction of the locks and dams and their resulting reservoirs in the 1930s. It took several decades for wild celery beds to become established in this ideal habitat. Now, every autumn, canvasback arrive on Lake Onalaska in mid-October, feeding intensively for about 2 weeks to replenish their fat reserves on the stored energy of the tuber-like winter root bud of the wild celery plant. Most depart on the next leg of their migration by early November.

A buoy-marked voluntary waterfowl avoidance area (VWAA) is established each year on Lake Onalaska from October 15 until canvasback have left the Lake. Excessive disturbance to canvasback causing them to take flight burns the body fat they are attempting to rebuild for their next migratory hop.


The decline of wild celery beds as Lake Onalaska senesces and fills with sediment will be a major problem for canvasback in the very near future. Canvasbacks have no alternative beds of wild celery for refueling grounds. Initially projected to last only 50 years in the high-sediment environment of the upper Mississippi River, reservoirs like Lake Onalaska are now more than 80 years old. The LOPRD is working with natural resource partners to slow the rate of sedimentation into the Lake. (more information)

Tundra Swans and Arrowhead Plants

Tundra swans on ice. Photo: D. Montgomery

Sandhill Cranes