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Timing the Freezout Lake waterfowl migration

Freezout Lake
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Posted at 10:02 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 13:39:56-04

FAIRFIELD — The old adage of “timing is everything” applies to many aspects of life, but it is also relevant for people who want to see the migrating waterfowl at Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area near Fairfield.

During 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, and 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.

FWP says the peak time to see the migrations is when numbers hit around 20,000 to 50,000; they to see those numbers move in the week leading up March 25th based on trends from previous years.

Though the birds may be moving in, events surrounding their arrival have been canceled due to COVID-19, like the Wild Wings Snow Geese Migration Festival.

“Last year they organized an event based out of Choteau just to draw people in and that went over real good. Last year COVID-19 kind of shut everything down and it was canceled last year and it was canceled again this year. But people still came and people are welcome to come out this year to drive through the area or spend time to view the birds as they are on site,” said Mark Schlepp, Montana FWP Wildlife Area Manager.

Staff will offer limited information to visitors on site. The park says your best chance at seeing the waterfowl close up are during early morning and later afternoon feeding times.

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. Click here to visit the page.

HOW TO GET THERE: About 40 miles northwest of Great Falls along US Highway 89 between Fairfield and Choteau - Access to area from US Highway 89, or Frontage Road from Fairfield, to various turnouts and parking areas year-round.