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Timing the Freezout Lake waterfowl migration

Freezout Lake
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Posted at 4:33 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 18:33:22-04

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.

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. 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.