Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1936, encompasses 15,551 acres in the Milk River Valley northeast of Malta in north-central Montana. The property is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service primarily as waterfowl habitat. Comprising almost equal parts native mixed-grass prairie uplands and permanent and seasonal wetlands, the refuge inhabits prairie depressions created by glaciers some 12,000 years ago. Refuge centerpiece Lake Bowdoin, submerging 5,459 acres, is thought to be a remnant oxbow of the pre-glacial Missouri River, which now flows 70 miles to the south.
Today, the refuge is a birder's paradise. American white pelicans, California gulls, ring-billed gulls, double-crested cormorants, and great blue herons are residents of Lake Bowdoin and its islands, and nearby wetlands are frequented by Franklin's gulls, white-faced ibis, black-crowned night herons, eared grebes and American bitterns. In the prairie-grass uplands, songbirds including Baird's sparrow, Sprague's pipit, grasshopper sparrow, savannah sparrow, chestnut-collared longspur, and western meadowlark (Montana's state bird) are common.
In spring, sharp-tailed grouse breed and nest on the refuge. Fall brings migrant raptors, sparrows, warblers, dark-eyed juncos, American coots, sandhill cranes, and the occasional tundra swan.
Mammal-wise, a full complement of shrews, bats, rabbits, squirrels, gophers, beavers, mice, porcupines, coyotes, red fox, raccoons, weasels, minks, badgers and skunks call the refuge home. Bobcats, Canada lynx and mountain lions have been spotted at Bowdoin, and both whitetail and mule deer are common, alongside a resident population of some 100-150 pronghorn antelope.
Big game hunting is prohibited at Bowdoin proper (though allowed on some satellite refuges), but limited waterfowl hunting and game fishing is permitted in waterfowl production areas and satellite refuges, which include Black Coulee National Wildlife Refuge, Creedman Coulee National Wildlife Refuge, Hewitt Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Lake Thibadeau National Wildlife Refuge. Click here for refuge-specific hunting and boating regulations.
For non-hunters, primary access to the refuge is via a 15-mile self-guided automobile route and a 0.4-mile foot trail. Birders with cameras should be aware that on-site photography is for personal use only; commercial photography and filming requires a permit from the refuge manager.