Wildlife & Habitat

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Ruddy Duck

Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) are part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a network of lands managed to conserve fish and wildlife and their habitat. These wetlands and grasslands are critical to waterfowl and other wildlife. WPAs are lands purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with funds generated from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps.

  • Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County - Birds

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    Migrating waterfowl arrive even before winter’s ice has melted. 

    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County is part of the 5% of WPAs not found in the prairie wetlands of the Dakotas, Minnesota and eastern Montana. Western Montana WPAs serve an important role for migrating birds. Wetlands are scarce in the drier Intermountain West which means they play an even more important role for millions of water-dependent birds that migrate through or nest in western Montana.

    Waterfowl Production Areas – Prairie Jewels of the National Wildlife Refuge System PDF 

    Migratory Bird Program – Program Overview PDF 

    North American Waterfowl Management Plan 

    Birds of the Intermountain West Joint Venture 

    Wetlands in the Intermountain West Joint Venture 


  • Waterfowl - Dabbling Ducks

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    Cinnamon Teal 

    Dabbling ducks feed by tipping down to reach aquatic plants and invertebrates below the surface. They take flight by springing into the air. Common dabbling ducks on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler.

    Montana Field Guide Swans/Geese/ Ducks  


  • Waterfowl - Diving Ducks

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    Diving ducks dive and swim underwater to feed. They need a running start on the water to get airborne. Common diving ducks on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Canvasback, Common Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and Ruddy Duck.

    Montana Field Guide Swans/Geese/ Ducks 

  • Waterfowl - Sea Ducks

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    Common Goldeneye 

    Sea Ducks are diving ducks that spend part of their life in coastal waters. Common sea ducks on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye, and Bufflehead.

    Montana Field Guide Swans/Geese/ Ducks  

  • Swans and Geese

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    Trumpeter Swans 

    Swans and geese are the largest members of the waterfowl group of birds. Swans eat mostly plant materials both on land and in the water. Geese also eat mostly plant materials but they spend more time on land grazing on grasses and other plants. Both swans and geese mate for life. Common swans and geese on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Canada Geese, Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.

    Montana Field Guide Swans/Geese/ Ducks  

  • Waterbirds

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    Sandhill Crane 

    The waterbird group includes bird species dependent on aquatic habitats during parts of their life cycle. Waterbirds can be found in the open oceans, along the coast in both fresh and saltwaters, wading in fresh or brackish inland waters, or hiding in inland fresh water marshes. Common waterbirds on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Sandhill Cranes, Sora, American Coot, Pied-billed, Horned, Eared, and Red-necked Grebes, Great Blue Herons, Common Loons, and Ring-billed Gulls.   

    Colonial Nesting Waterbirds – A Glorious and Gregarious Group Shorebirds pdf 

    North American Waterbird Conservation Plan 

    Learn More About the Birds of Montana  

  • Shorebirds

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    Shorebirds are typically found along shorelines of rivers and lakes. They are commonly characterized by long bills, legs and toes. Common shorebirds on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Killdeer, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Wilson’s Snipe, Spotted Sandpipers and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.

    The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan 

    Directory of Shorebird Education Materials 

    Learn More About the Birds of Montana 

  • Grassland and Shrubland Birds

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    Western Meadowlark 

    Upland habitat on WPAs supports a wide array of grassland and shrubland birds. Common birds on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Savannah, Song, Vesper and Clay-Colored Sparrows, Western Meadowlark, Eastern Kingbird, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds, Brewer’s Yellow-headed and Redwing Blackbirds, Evening Grosbeak, Tree, Violet Green and Barn Swallows, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Northern Flicker, Brown-headed Cowbird, Mourning Dove, Red-naped Sapsucker, Downy and Harry Woodpeckers, and American Goldfinch.

    The North American Landbird Conservation Plan  

    Learn More About the Birds of Montana 

  • Eagles, Owls and Hawks

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    Red-tailed Hawk 

    Raptors are birds of prey who feed off of other animals. Eagles, owls, hawks and falcons are all part of this group of excellent hunters. These birds use their binocular vision and keen hearing in order to detect their prey. They also have large powerful grasping feet with razor sharp talons for catching their prey. Most raptors also have large, hooked bills that can tear their prey apart to eat. Some raptors are diurnal or daytime species (hawks, falcons and eagles) and some are nocturnal or nighttime species (owls). Common raptors on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County include: Bald and Golden Eagles, Short-eared and Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, Northern Harriers, Northern Goshawks, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Prairie Falcon.

    Raptors – Diurnal and Nocturnal Birds of Prey Fact Sheet 

    Learn More About the Birds of Montana 

  • Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County - Habitat

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    Flathead River oxbow remnant and wetlands on Blasdel WPA. 

    Habitat is defined as a combination of environmental factors that provides food, water, cover and space that living things need to survive and reproduce. It is the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County includes wetland, riverine and upland habitats for northwest Montana wildlife and plants. Each Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) has a unique combination of habitats. Some of our WPAs primarily provide food and water for waterfowl during their migrations north in the spring and south in the fall. Some provide cover and space for nesting waterfowl in the spring and summer months. Others also provide upland cover and food for Neotropical birds that nest in north-west Montana grasslands. The majority of our WPAs contain hidden pockets of native Intermountain West prairie plant species.  

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Habitat Conservation 

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

  • Habitat - Wetlands

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    Flathead WPA natural wetlands are now surrounded by human development. 

    Wetlands are lands that are saturated with water. Wetland types vary widely depending on the type of soil present, the topography of the area, the climate, vegetation present and many other factors. All wetlands provide ecological, economic and social benefits. They provide habitat for fish, wildlife and plants. They are important landscape features because they hold and slowly release water and snow melt which recharges groundwater and recycles nutrients. Wetlands also provide recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities for millions of people.

    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County’s five Waterfowl Production Areas are comprised of multiple kinds of wetlands. Some are permanent and hold water every year all year round while others are more seasonal (part of the year) or temporary (only some years). All these wetlands provide habitat for a multitude of bird species as well as amphibians, reptiles, insects (and pollinators) as well as many species of mammals (small and large).

  • Habitat - Riparian

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    Ashley Creek flows through Smith Lake WPA and Batavia WPA. 

    Riparian habitats are among the most important vegetative communities for western wildlife species including a large number of migratory birds. These habitats are usually a transition between wetlands and uplands. Riparian areas include the plant communities that are associated with rivers, streams, lakes or drainage areas. Often times these plant communities are more vigorous with more robust plant growth than surrounding communities.

    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County’s five Waterfowl Production Areas are comprised of several kinds of riparian areas. Ashley Creek flows down from Ashley Lake high up in the mountains through Smith Lake WPA and then through Batavia WPA before ultimately flowing into the Flathead River and Flathead Lake. Portions of Ashley Creek are comprised of grass covered banks while other sections have scattered shrubs and trees along the banks.

    Located in the middle of Blasdel WPA is a small Flathead River riparian oxbow remnant with giant cottonwood trees and deciduous shrub understory.  

    Flathead WPA is located on both sides of Flathead River riparian habitat just as the river enters Flathead Lake. Huge cottonwood and aspen trees provide nesting sites for bald eagles and osprey. Deciduous understory shrubs provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.

    Riparian habitat on McGregor Meadows WPA was recently restored by the Fish and Wildlife Service staff. Both Notellum and Skookum Creeks were reconstructed through McGregor Meadows WPA after having been channelized by previous owners. Stream length was increased through meandering and stream banks were heightened during restoration. Native woody vegetation was planted along the new streams creating valuable riparian habitat.

  • Habitat - Uplands

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    Blasdel WPA uplands include introduced grasses and forbs as well as native shrubs such as wild rose and dogwood.  

    Upland habitats on Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County WPAs are as variable as their wetland and riparian habitats. Upland habitats on WPAs are primarily managed for ground nesting migratory birds (ducks and geese). These grassland habitats can consist of introduced grasses which provides dense nesting cover or native grasses/forbs that also provides a variety of cover for all ground/shrub nesting birds including Neotropical song birds.

    Smith Lake WPA is primarily a native/non-native reed canarygrass complex with scattered shrubs. Following normal to heavy winter snow years, much of Smith Lake WPA grasslands remain wet well into summer. Although the tree covered grassy upland slopes receive very little use by waterfowl, they do provide habitat for a suite of other upland nesting migratory bird species.  

    Batavia WPA has large areas of native grass uplands surrounded by introduced grasses. Both Smith Lake and Batavia WPAs attract large numbers of nesting Canada Geese and Mallards.

    Blasdel WPA has been farmed and is now planted to a mixture of tame grasses and forbs. Short-eared owls and other raptors are commonly seen hunting over the upland areas of the WPA. Over time, native shrubs such as wild rose and dogwood have become re-established in the upland areas providing nesting cover for upland sparrows and other small migratory birds. 

    Although at one time McGregor Meadows WPA was primarily a ditched grassy upland-like area, since the riparian areas were restored, these upland-like areas have returned to a more natural sedge/grass marsh wetland. It will be interesting to follow the vegetation changes over time on this WPA. The WPA is currently receiving a lot of waterfowl use but it is unknown whether it is primarily nesting habitat or feeding habitat.