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Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge

Site Facts

Country, State, Province/Region:

United States of America, Montana

Relative Location:

Phillips County

Latitude/Longitude:

48° 24’ N; 107° 39’ W

Category:

Regional

Basis for Designation:

Supports more than 20,000 shorebirds annually

Size:

15,551 acres

Joined:

April 2002

Site Owner/Steward:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Human Population within 100 km:

3,904 in Phillips County (2008 Census)

Contact:

Carmen Luna
Refuge Manager, Bowdoin NWR
bowdoin@fws.gov

 

About Us

The Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in February of 1936 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge is within the short- and mixed-grass prairie region of North-central Montana and is located about 7 miles northeast of Malta, in the Milk River Valley of Phillips County. Malta has a population of approximately 2,000 people and is the largest community for at least 70 miles in any direction of the refuge.

HABITATS / WATER
The refuge contains a total of 6,615 acres of freshwater and saline wetlands; the remainder is upland habitat comprising native prairie, dense nesting cover, shrubs, and trees. Lake Bowdoin and Dry Lake are the two largest water units on the refuge. Both were once oxbows of a pre-glacial Missouri River channel that today lies 70 miles south of the refuge! They have extensive areas of supersaline, shallow water, and their alkaline beaches and mud flats are rich in invertebrates--all important features for migratory shorebirds. 

BIRDS
Maximum single counts for 38 shorebird species found at Bowdoin NWR come from an International Shorebird Survey (ISS) route during 1996 through 2001, with two exceptions: a single Mountain Plover observed in 1989 and a single Red Phalarope photographed in 1985. The total number of 32,370 shorebirds is very conservative given that the ISS route does not include some of the better shorebird habitat on the refuge. During 2000 and 2001, six surveys determined that 28 to 44% of the shorebirds were not being counted by the ISS route. Expanding the ISS maximum count of 32,370 shorebirds to include the percent missed produces the following table. Regular shorebird surveys have not been performed in recent years due to decreases in staffing and increases in requirements for other refuge programs.

Use: migration (M) or breeding (B).  

List of Species

Season

Use

Maximum

Black-bellied Plover

May & October

M

60

American Golden-Plover

May, July, Aug., Oct.

M

2

Pacific Golden-Plover

October

M

1

Snowy Plover

June

M

2

Piping Plover

May & August

B

4

Semipalmated Plover

May & September

M

55

Killdeer

April & October

B

188

Mountain Plover

June

M

1

American Avocet

April & October

B

699

Black-necked Stilt

April & October

B

102

Willet

April & September

B

1,288

Greater Yellowlegs

April & November

M

103

Lesser Yellowlegs

April - October

M

701

Solitary Sandpiper

May, July, August

M

2

Spotted Sandpiper

May - August

B

24

Whimbrel

May & July

M

7

Long-billed Curlew

May & August

B

384

Marbled Godwit

April & October

B

1,610

Hudsonian Godwit

June & August

M

7

Ruddy Turnstone

May, July, August

M

2

Red Knot May, July, August M 3
Sanderling May & October M 72
Dunlin July & August M 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper May & October M 2,261
Western Sandpiper June & September M 49
Least Sandpiper May & October M 244
White-rumped Sandpiper May, June, Aug., Sept. M 24
Baird’s Sandpiper May & October M 920
Pectoral Sandpiper May, July & October M 154
Upland Sandpiper May & August B 7
Buff-breasted Sandpiper July, September M 1
Short-billed Dowitcher May, July, August M 28
Long-billed Dowitcher May & October M 1,727
Stilt Sandpiper May & October M 1,803
Common Snipe May & September B 7
Wilson’s Phalarope May & September B 13,826
Red-necked Phalarope May & August M 6,000
Red Phalarope July M 1


Percentage of shorebirds on and off the Bowdoin ISS route during 6 surveys in 2000 and 2001.
 

Date of Survey

Percent on ISS Route

Percent off ISS route

02 August 2000

72

28

09 August 2000

56

44

16 August 2000

63

37

23 August 2000

70

30

25 July 2001

61

39

01 August 2001

72

28

        

Ecology & Conservation

Land Use:
Forty percent of the refuge is open to hunting of waterfowl and upland game-birds during the fall.

Current Threats:
Water quality is a major issue. Lake Bowdoin and Dry Lake accumulate salts from groundwater seeping to the surface; salt can also enter the refuge via incoming water from Milk River Irrigation System. Some salt is advantageous for its positive effect on invertebrate production (a shorebird food source); however, excessive salt loads and biomass production can lead to outbreaks of avian botulism and potential deformities in some bird species.The refuge is not allowed to discharge its water into Beaver Creek except during infrequent flood events, therefore, the only way that salt is released is through wind erosion on dry saltflats in late summer.

Periods of drought, which are a natural occurrence in eastern Montana, help to maintain a healthy prairie-wetland community but also result in fluctuating shorebird populations.

Invasion of noxious weeds and other plants is also a concern, particularly Russian olive trees along shorelines, dikes, and water delivery canals. Refuge staff began an eradication program in 2000 and have restored the prairie-wetland vegetation community in several locations. However, the extent of the invasion is so great that 100% eradication is unlikely.

Management Activities:
Bowdoin NWR was designated an Important Bird Area on March 17, 2001. The refuge is developing its Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), to be completed by 2012. A primary function of the refuge is to provide resting, feeding, and breeding habitat for migratory birds, and water management practices reflect this. Upland management techniques include prescribed fire, grazing, and mowing to maintain native prairie for upland-nesting shorebirds and waterfowl. The east half of Lake Bowdoin and western portion of Dry Lake are designated as critical habitat for the threatened Piping Plover, and this area is managed accordingly.  

Research & Monitoring:
Currently, research and monitoring on Bowdoin NWR is limited to the Piping Plover given decreases in refuge staff and steady attention required for CCP development and other programs. Previously, staff participated in All-Bird Monitoring for the State of Montana, developed by the Montana Bird Conservation Partnership; International Shorebird Survey (ISS) routes at Bowdoin NWR (1996 - 2003) and Hewitt Lake NWR (2000 - 2003); nest monitoring of upland-nesting shorebirds; and banding of nesting adults and nestlings.

 

Special Information:

Visiting:
Bowdoin NWR is located in a semi-remote area with a low population density just south of U.S. Highway 2. More than 1,700 people visit the refuge for general tourism and birdwatching primarily from April through October. The conductors of the Amtrak passenger trains that cross Bowdoin NWR each day always make an announcement onboard about the refuge. Montana State University Northern (in Havre) has held Teacher Workshops and student field trips at the refuge, as have several school groups from Malta and elsewhere. There is no active "Friends Group" of the refuge, but local community interest has grown in recent years with outreach efforts and increased ecotourism to the area. 

Local Activities:
Annual: Bowdoin NWR Christmas Bird Count in December, and International Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday in May.

Wildlife viewing has become one of the top tourism activities in Montana  and on the refuge, and staff actively promote the refuge's economic value to local businesses. There are no concessions or accommodations on the refuge, therefore motels, restaurants, and gas stations/convenience stores are the primary recipients of  tourism money generated by Bowdoin NWR visitors.

Contact:

Carmen Luna
Refuge Manager, Bowdoin NWR
194 Bowdoin Auto Tour Road
Malta, Montana 59538 USA
(406) 654-2863
bowdoin@fws.gov

Additional Resources

Bibliography:

Prellwitz, D.M., T.A. Prellwitz, K.K. Stutzman, and J.W. Stutzman. 1989. Piping plovers nesting at Nelson Reservoir, Montana. Prairie Naturalist, 21(2): 84-86.

Prellwitz, D.M. 1993. Additional mountain plover sightings in Montana. Prairie Naturalist, 25(1): 23-26.

Prellwitz, D.M., K.E. Erickson, and L.M. Osborne. 1995. Translocation of piping plover nest to prevent nest flooding. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 23(1): 103-106.