Established in 1936, Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crown jewels among Montana's prairie-wetland complexes. It contains depressional wetlands created by Pleistocene glaciers 12,000 years ago, and the lake itself was once an oxbow of the Missouri River channel, which currently lies >100 km to the south. Major habitat types include saline and freshwater wetlands, native prairie, and shrubs.

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Ornithological Summary

More than 260 species of birds have been documented on the refuge. The list of breeders includes 19 species of Global (Ferruginous Hawk, Piping Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Red-headed Woodpecker, Sprague's Pipit, Brewer's Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur) and Continental (Northern Harrier, Swainson's Hawk, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, Common Tern, Burrowing Owl, Short-eared Owl, Willow Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Baird's Sparrow, McCown's Longspur) conservation concern. The refuge also has one of only four nesting colonies of American White Pelicans, and one of only five nesting colonies of Franklin's Gulls, in Montana. It is the only place in Montana, and one of the few in the lower 48 states, where Arctic Terns nest. Because of the concentrations of migrating shorebirds, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network recognizes Lake Bowdoin as a site of Regional importance.

Conservation Issues

Water quality is an issue. Lake Bowdoin accumulate salts from groundwater seeping to the surface near shorelines. Saline seeps are a common in eastern Montana, but the magnitude of the problem at Bowdoin has raised concerns with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Although some salt is advantageous to many shorebird species because of the tremendous productivity of invertebrate life in salty water, excessive salt loads and biomass production lead to outbreaks of avian botulism. Botulism has killed in excess of 8,000 waterfowl in some years. Salt can enter the refuge in irrigation return flows, which the refuge has to accept from the Milk River Irrigation System. Invasion of noxious weeds and other unwanted plants is also a concern. Most noxious weeds have been kept in check in this part of Montana, but Russian olives have invaded along shorelines of refuge water units. An eradication program was begun in 2000 to remove invading olives from certain areas. Although olives may never be completely eradicated from Bowdoin, the prairie wetland vegetation community has been restored at several locations on the refuge. (Excerpted from threats write-up for the site on Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network's Web site.)

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