Observing the Fall Bird Migration

Midwest/Rocky Mountains
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American wigeon
American wigeon. (Refuge Reporter)

Bridger Mountains, MT

The Bridger Range in Gallatin National Forest has a north-south orientation. When the prevailing west wind hits the mountain range it makes an updraft that's much appreciated by broadwinged raptors. The area has the largest known concentration of golden eagles. Sometimes more than 200 a day have been spotted during their peak migration season, which is generally the second week of October. Hawkwatch International maintains a viewing spot at the top of a trail accessed from the Bridger Bowl Ski Area. From late August through October, the spot is staffed round the clock by volunteers. Further north, Sacagawea Peak, accessed from the Fairy Lake Road is also a prime viewing spot. Before heading out, stop in at the Bozeman ranger district for trailhead directions and a last-minute heads up.

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

Canadian Geese may have become the scourge of golf courses and corporate office parks, but there's still few visions as awe-inspiring as the annual convocation of geese at Horicon NWR. But there's more to this refuge than geese. This massive, 21,000-acre wetlands—the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the country—provides shelter for 223 species of birds and other wildlife, including the recently returned Trumpeter swan, which breeds in the Arctic and passes through on its way to the coast for the winter.

Two other national wildlife refuges in Wisconsin offer terrific chances to see migrating birds. Besides wetlands habitat, Necedah offers a peek at the now rare oak barrens habitat. Trempeleau, on the Mississippi River, has extensive woodlands that welcomes migrating songbirds as well as wetlands for waterfowl.

De Soto National Wildlife Refuge

This is the place to go in the Midwest to witness the fall migration of snow geese—we're talking 300,000 to 800,000. Refuge lies in the plain of the Missouri River floodplain, and includes DeSoto Lake, which is a former oxbow of the Missouri. The refuge's land is split between Iowa and Nebraska. If you miss the snow geese, come back later for the bald eagles that inhabit the refuge from November to December, and again in March. The refuge is located about 25 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska.

Sand Lake NWR

Pelicans and Franklin's gulls in South Dakota? Yep. In fact you'll find the largest population of nesting gulls at South Dakota's Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The area around the refuge was once a vast, rolling grassland interrupted only by the slow moving James River. The Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge was created when the James River was cut off by a series of small dams, creating an expansive marsh. Thousands of ducks, Canada geese, and other waterbirds nest here annually. The 21,500-acre refuge is nationally known as a stopover for huge flocks of migrating snow geese in spring and fall. The best time to see this fall migration is mid October to early November.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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