Timing the Freezout Lake waterfowl migration
By angelamontana

Posted: March 8, 2021

FAIRFIELD – The old adage of “timing is everything” applies to many aspects of life, but it is also relevant to those who wish to view the migrating waterfowl at Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area in north-central Montana.

In a typical spring, several hundred thousand migrating ducks, geese, swans and other birds pass through the area on their way to northern nesting grounds. Freezout provides an important place for them to stop, rest and refuel on their journey.

The wildlife management area, managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, has also become popular with birdwatchers and anyone who wants to enjoy the chance to witness this natural spectacle. On a busy weekend during the peak of the migration, hundreds of visitors from across Montana and nearby states drive the roads at Freezout, waiting to catch sight of thousands of birds loafing on the area, lifting off the water to fly out and feed in nearby grain fields or continue their migration north.

Timing of a visit is critical. Although March is the peak month to see birds in the spring, it’s important to choose a day when large numbers of birds are present. Changing spring weather systems result in a constant string of waterfowl arriving and departing to continue their northward migration. In an average year, the last week to 10 days of March typically sees the largest number of migrating waterfowl.

Paying careful attention to the time of day can help wildlife watchers see more birds. Visitors should be aware that during mid-morning and mid-afternoon time periods the birds may be out feeding in surrounding fields and may be difficult to spot. By arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon and being patient, visitors can increase their odds to witness one of the greatest wildlife migrations through Montana.

In past years, visitors relied upon a telephone message recorded by Freezout-based FWP staff for updates on bird migration status. Recently, staff have transitioned to a web-based platform. This new web page contains updated information on bird numbers, weather patterns and the overall status of the migration, as well as other WMA information.

To view the web page, visit fwp.mt.gov and click on the Conservation Tab at the top. From the menu on the left, select WMAs, then search for Freezout Lake WMA.  Once on the Freezout Lake WMA site, click on the “Freezout Lake WMA Story Map” link under the photo.